Asbestos: when the dust settles an imaging review of asbestos-related disease

Radiographics. 2002 Oct:22 Spec No:S167-84. doi: 10.1148/radiographics.22.suppl_1.g02oc10s167.


Asbestos-related neoplastic and nonneoplastic diseases of the lungs and pleura range from pleural effusion and pleural plaques to lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma. Pleural effusions are typically hemorrhagic exudates of mixed cellularity but do not typically contain asbestos bodies. The classic distribution of pleural plaques seen on chest radiographs is the posterolateral chest wall between the seventh and tenth ribs, lateral chest wall between the sixth and ninth ribs, the dome of the diaphragm, and the mediastinal pleura. Computed tomographic (CT) findings support this distribution but also show anterior and paravertebral plaques not well shown at chest radiography. Imaging features of diffuse pleural thickening include a continuous sheet, often involving the costophrenic angles and apices, that rarely calcifies. The typical CT features of round atelectasis are of a round or oval mass that abuts the pleura, a "comet tail" of bronchovascular structures going into the mass, and thickening of the adjacent pleura. Features of asbestosis on chest radiographs include ground-glass opacification, small nodular opacities, "shaggy" cardiac silhouette, and ill-defined diaphragmatic contours. CT, however, is more sensitive in their detection. Chest radiography in patients with malignant mesothelioma may show an effusion, pleural thickening, and as the tumor progresses, a more lobulated outline. CT can help identify the disease in its early stages. Asbestos-related cancers can occur anywhere in the lungs. Recognition of the clinical, radiologic, and pathologic features of these diseases will be important for some years to come.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asbestos / adverse effects*
  • Asbestosis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Asbestosis / etiology
  • Asbestosis / pathology
  • Carcinogens*
  • Carcinoma, Bronchogenic / diagnostic imaging
  • Carcinoma, Bronchogenic / etiology
  • Carcinoma, Bronchogenic / pathology
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging
  • Lung Neoplasms / etiology
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Mesothelioma / diagnostic imaging
  • Mesothelioma / etiology
  • Mesothelioma / pathology
  • Mineral Fibers / adverse effects
  • Pleura / diagnostic imaging
  • Pleura / pathology
  • Pleural Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Pleural Diseases / etiology
  • Pleural Diseases / pathology
  • Pleural Effusion / diagnostic imaging
  • Pleural Effusion / etiology
  • Pleural Effusion / pathology
  • Pleural Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging
  • Pleural Neoplasms / etiology
  • Pleural Neoplasms / pathology
  • Pulmonary Atelectasis / diagnostic imaging
  • Pulmonary Atelectasis / etiology
  • Pulmonary Atelectasis / pathology
  • Radiography


  • Carcinogens
  • Mineral Fibers
  • Asbestos