Health effects of asbestos exposure in humans: a quantitative assessment

Med Lav. Nov-Dec 1998;89(6):471-80.


Asbestos causes four diseases in humans: Lung fibrosis (asbestosis) follows heavy exposure and, in industrialized countries, is mainly a relic of past working conditions. The risk of pleural fibrosis and plaques is likely to be linearly dependent from time since first exposure and is present for all types of asbestos fibres. The diagnostic uncertainties regarding pleural plaques and the substantial degree of misclassification make it difficult to precisely estimate the shape of the dose-response relationship. The risk of lung cancer seems to be linearly related to cumulative asbestos exposure, with an estimated increase in risk of 1% for each fibre/ml-year of exposure. All fibre types seem to exert a similar effect on lung cancer risk; a multiplicative interaction with tobacco smoking has been suggested. Pleural mesothelioma is a malignant neoplasm which is specifically associated with asbestos exposure: the risk is linked with the cubic power of time since first exposure, after allowing for a latency period of 10 years, and depends on the fibre type, as the risk is about three times higher for amphiboles as compared to chrysotile. Environmental exposure to asbestos is also associated with mesothelioma risk.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asbestos / adverse effects*
  • Asbestosis / etiology
  • Carcinogens / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / etiology
  • Mesothelioma / etiology
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Pleural Diseases / etiology
  • Pleural Neoplasms / etiology
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / etiology
  • Risk Factors


  • Carcinogens
  • Asbestos