Early Signs and Risk Factors

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Because asbestos exposure has been linked to cancer, those concerned about their exposure have many questions. Knowing your risk and learning what signs and symptoms to look out for is the best first line of defense. Primary risk factors include:

  • Working directly with asbestos, either as a miner or a plant worker
  • Working in the various industries where asbestos was routinely used, such as plants where steam was used for manufacturing or heat
  • Living near an asbestos mine
  • Working on home repairs without taking proper precautions to avoid asbestos
  • Sharing a household with someone who worked with asbestos regularly

Who faces the highest risk of health problems from asbestos exposure?

Experts have seen three groups of people at risk for mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, or other health problems as a result of asbestos exposure.

Highest Risk — Long-Term, Direct Exposure

Workers who were responsible for mining and/or manufacturing raw asbestos and faced chronic asbestos contact over a long period of time.

Moderate Risk — Some Occupational Exposure

Men and women in professions where asbestos-containing products were handled daily. Construction trades such as insulators, pipe fitters, mechanics, carpenters, and electricians, among others, were heavily exposed to asbestos, especially before 1980.

Some Risk — Secondhand Exposure

Spouses/family members who had contact with asbestos dust from workers’ clothing, or those who may simply be exposed environmentally in aging homes and buildings with loosened asbestos fibers.

Unfortunately, many people do not experience symptoms until many years, even decades, after exposure to asbestos. Some have early warning signs that are dismissed as other health issues. Often, an affected individual consults his or her doctor, but may not mention exposure to asbestos. This is why it is important to know your level of risk and seek help from a specialist in diagnosing asbestos disease.

Common Symptoms and Warning Signs Include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Persistent dry cough
  • Trouble breathing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Fevers and/or night sweats
  • Changes in skin and nails of the hands

Symptoms will depend on which disease you have and the extent to which it has damaged your lungs. Learn more about asbestos-related diseases now.

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