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Early Detection

It is strongly encouraged that anyone who has had past asbestos exposure be checked periodically for asbestos disease. Early detection is vital, since even lung cancers have a higher survival rate if caught early. Non-cancerous disease may be diagnosed through a normal front and side view x-ray (also called a PA and lateral), with the x-ray films read preferably by a radiologist called a Certified B-reader. This should be an adequate diagnostic test to determine if any scarring is present which would be consistent with asbestos exposure. Click here for a current listing of these radiologists. If anything suspicious appears on the x-ray films, the patient would be referred to a specialist for further evaluation. Cancerous disease, although it may be suspected through tests such as an x-ray or CT scan, can only be confirmed through a tissue biopsy. Be sure you understand the significance of your diagnosis.


  • Pleural disease - often noted as a scarring of the lining of the lung, and sometimes expressed as "pleural thickening", "pleural plaque" or "pleural calcification".
  • Asbestosis - defined as a scarring of the lower lobes of the lungs bilaterally (on both sides); often referred to as "asbestos in the lung".

If you have been diagnosed with a non-cancerous disease, it is important that your doctor monitor your condition with regular x-rays and/or high resolution CT scans, and pulmonary function tests. It is also important to compare new and old radiographic films and review any other pertinent test results to check for progression of disease.

Note: Although these diseases are non-cancerous at the onset, they can be progressive, eventually leading to a need for inhalers or oxygen. They also constitute a significantly greater risk of future cancer in those who have a prior smoking history, or those who continue to smoke.


  • Lung cancer - diagnosed as non-small cell (which includes adenocarcinoma, squamous cell or large cell) and small cell (which includes oat cell, lymphocytic, intermediate or combined); lung cancer may be contributed to by asbestos exposure, although it is not normally the sole cause.
  • Mesothelioma - a rare form of cancer of the lining of the lung (pleural mesothelioma) or the lining of the abdominal cavity (peritoneal mesothelioma), or in rare cases, the lining of the heart (pericardial mesothelioma); exclusive to asbestos exposure.

If you have been diagnosed with lung cancer, it is important to make a treatment decision, and then follow your doctor's recommendations. Additional information on various types of lung cancer may be obtained through the National Cancer Institute at 1-800-4-CANCER.

Lung Cancer Deaths associated with Smoking and Asbestos Exposure
(Data from Hammond et al., 1979)

Group Mortality Ratio
Non-Smoker without Asbestos Exposure 1*
Smoker without Asbestos Exposure 5
Smoker without Asbestos Exposure 11
Smoker with Asbestos Exposure 53

*Note: A mortality ratio of A1" would translate to 1 death from lung cancer per 9,000 individual

How Veterans were exposed to asbestos