Information & Resources

Asbestos Diseases

Pleural plaque

Pleural plaque is not a cancer and it does not cause cancer. It can take up to seven years to develop after asbestos exposure before it can be seen on a chest X-ray or CT scan. A plaque is a thickening patch known as fibrosis on the pleura. The pleura is the two layers of membrane that line the chest wall and cover the lungs. Pleural plaques are the appearance of discrete patches of thickening on the lining of the chest wall and over the diaphragms in the pleural membranes that surround the lungs.


Asbestosis is not a cancer but is a serious disease. It may take up to ten years after asbestos exposure to develop. When asbestos fibres stay in the lungs, scar tissue forms around them. This scar tissue may increase over time and hamper the movement of oxygen into the blood stream. Someone presenting with asbestosis will often feel short of breath, chest tightness and crackles will be heard upon listening to the chest.

Asbestosis can slowly progress over time and it is usually found in people who have had significant exposure to asbestos. There is currently no cure for this disease, however treatment may prolong and improve quality of life.


Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that is associated with asbestos exposure. It can take up to 25-40 years after exposure to develop. The risk of developing mesothelioma may be directly related to how much asbestos exposure one has had and for how long.

Mesothelioma may occur in one or more places in the cells covering the surface of lungs and the lining of the chest wall (the pleura), the abdomen (the peritoneum) or the sac-like space around the heart (the pericardium). In some rare cases mesothelioma may occur in other parts of the body such as the ovaries or testes.

Cancer Council Victoria has published a patient information and support booklet, Mesothelioma: A guide for people with cancer. The content covers diagnosis, treatment options, different support options, living with advanced cancer, as well as practical information such as the financial and legal implications of the disease.

Pleural mesothelioma

This cancer, associated with asbestos exposure, occurs in the cells of the pleura which is a membrane lining the surface of lungs and lining the inside of the chest wall. It forms growths, shaped like small pieces of cauliflower, and these grow and spread to surrounding areas. The tumour may eventually totally envelop the entire lung. A very common sign of pleural mesothelioma is pleural effusion, which is a build up of fluid on the lungs.

Someone with pleural mesothelioma may experience severe chest pain, pleural effusion, a dry cough and breathlessness. There is currently no cure for this disease, however treatment may prolong and improve quality of life.

Peritoneal mesothelioma

This type of cancer that is associated with asbestos exposure can be found around the outside of the coils of the intestine. Lining the abdominal cavity is a membrane (the peritoneum) similar in character and thickness to the pleura. It is similar tissue to the pleura and like it can give rise to a malignant tumour called peritoneal mesothelioma. Symptoms make include a painful and swollen abdomen, nausea, vomiting, fever and possibly bowel and urinary problems.

Pericardial mesothelioma

Pericardial mesothelioma is a rare form of asbestos related cancer. This form of cancer affects the lining that surrounds the heart, and is associated with long term exposure to asbestos fibres. The pericardium is the sac-like space around the heart and this is where the malignant tumour is likely to grow.

There are several main symptoms to look out for with pericardial mesothelioma. These include persistent coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain and heart palpitations.

A common sign of pericardial mesothelioma is pericardial effusion, or a collection of fluid in the sac that surrounds the heart.

Lung cancer

Lung cancer may occur amongst anyone who has been exposed to asbestos. If diagnosed early the cancers may be totally removed by surgery. It is suggested that those who have been exposed to asbestos and smoke cigarettes are particularly prone to develop lung cancer.