Biological responses to asbestos inhalation and pathogenesis of asbestos-related benign and malignant disease

J Investig Med. 2018 Apr;66(4):721-727. doi: 10.1136/jim-2017-000628. Epub 2018 Jan 6.


Asbestos comprises a group of fibrous minerals that are naturally occurring in the environment. Because of its natural properties, asbestos gained popularity for commercial applications in the late 19th century and was used throughout the majority of the 20th century, with predominant use in the construction, automotive, and shipbuilding industries. Asbestos has been linked to a spectrum of pulmonary diseases, such as pleural fibrosis and plaques, asbestosis, benign asbestos pleural effusion, small cell lung carcinoma, non-small cell lung carcinoma, and malignant mesothelioma. There are several mechanisms through which asbestos can lead to both benign and malignant disease, and they include alterations at the chromosomal level, activation of oncogenes, loss of tumor suppressor genes, alterations in cellular signal transduction pathways, generation of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species, and direct mechanical damage to cells from asbestos fibers. While known risk factors exist for the development of asbestos-related malignancies, there are currently no effective means to determine which asbestos-exposed patients will develop malignancy and which will not. There are also no established screening strategies to detect asbestos-related malignancies in patients who have a history of asbestos exposure. In this article, we present a case that highlights the different biological responses in human hosts to asbestos exposure.

Keywords: asbestos; bronchogenic carcinoma; mesothelioma; pleural fibrosis; pleural plaques.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asbestos / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Inhalation Exposure*
  • Lung Diseases / diagnosis
  • Lung Diseases / etiology
  • Mass Screening
  • Risk Factors


  • Asbestos