Inhalation of airborne asbestos fibres causes several diseases. These include asbestosis, lung cancer, malignant mesothelioma as well as pleural effusion, discrete (plaques) or diffuse benign pleural fibrosis and rolled atelectasis. The lag time between exposure and the development of disease may be many decades, thus the health risks of asbestos continue to be relevant despite bans on the use of asbestos and improvements in safety regulations for those who are still exposed. Asbestos was mined and used extensively in Australia for over 100 years and Australia is now experiencing part of a worldwide epidemic of asbestos-related disease. This review provides insight into the history and epidemiology of asbestos-related disease in Australia and discusses relevant clinical aspects in their diagnosis and management. The past and current medico-legal aspects of asbestos as well as currently evolving areas of research and future projections are summarized.
© 2011 The Authors. Internal Medicine Journal © 2011 Royal Australasian College of Physicians.