Asbestos Related Diseases

Asbestos can easily be inhaled if disturbed, or if an asbestos containing material is in poor condition, as the material readily divides into microscopic fibres which can be dispersed on air currents.


Unfortunately, all forms of asbestos have the capability of causing fatal and incurable diseases including mesothelioma (a cancer of the lung lining), lung cancer and asbestosis (a fibrosis of the lung tissue). A number of other diseases such as pleural plaques, nasal cancer and pleural thickening are also associated with asbestos exposure. There is usually a long latency period from exposure until symptoms of the disease appear – typically 10 to 40 years.


The Health and Safety Executive estimates that previous exposure to asbestos currently leads to some 5,000 deaths annually in the UK. 


The table below shows the annual number of asbestos-related deaths and industrial injury disablement benefit cases. The HSE also projects future asbestos-related deaths as shown by the broken line. In July 2022 the HSE released their Asebstos-related Disease statistics in Great Britain, which includes 2020 data. Please refer to the HSE's website for the full report: "


Inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause cancers such as mesothelioma and lung cancer, and other serious lung diseases such as asbestosis and pleural thickening.


There were 2,544 mesothelioma deaths in Great Britain in 2020, a rise of 6% compared with 2019, but similar to the average of 2,523 deaths per year over the previous 8 years.


A ratio of one asbestos-related lung cancer for every mesothelioma implies there are currently around 2,500 asbestos-related lung cancer deaths each year.


Deaths mentioning asbestosis (excluding those that also mention mesothelioma) have increased substantially over a number of decades: there were 530 such deaths in 2020 compared with around 100 per year in the late 1970s. Typically, in recent years, around 2-3% of these deaths were among women.


HSE advise that the figures for 2020 are provisional and may have been affected to some extent by the coronavirus pandemic. A small number of individuals with mesothelioma and who developed COVID-19 may not have died in 2020 had pandemic not occurred. Conversely, delays in the death certification system could mean that a small number of additional 2020 deaths will be identified in the future.

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