Treating asbestosis

There is no cure for asbestosis once it has developed because it is not possible to repair lung damage caused by asbestos. Some people with asbestosis find their condition progresses over time, although many do not.

The most important thing someone with asbestosis can do is to stop smoking (if they smoke). This is because the progression of asbestosis is more common in smokers compared with non-smokers. In cases of asbestosis, smoking also increases the risk of lung cancer.

There are no treatments available to cure asbestosis. However, you can take steps to relieve your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

  • Vaccinations

If you have asbestosis, your lungs will be more vulnerable to the effects of infection. Therefore, it is recommended you receive the influenza vaccination and a vaccination against the pneumococcus bacterium, which can cause serious conditions such as pneumonia. Your GP can arrange for you to have these vaccinations.

  • Long-term oxygen therapy

If you have severe asbestosis, your body may not be getting all the oxygen it needs to function properly. If this is the case, oxygen therapy may be supplied through a machine called an oxygen concentrator. This form of treatment may be recommended if you have low levels of oxygen in your blood.

An oxygen concentrator is plugged into a mains socket. It purifies oxygen from the air in the room, which produces a more oxygen-rich supply of air. The oxygen-rich air can then be breathed in through a mask. The oxygen is breathed through a small soft plastic tube (nasal cannula), which is placed just inside your nostrils.

  • Medicines

The aim of treating asbestosis is to improve symptoms, such as shortness of breath, and to improve the person’s overall quality of life. Most people with asbestosis will not benefit from any specific medication for the condition. More severe cases may benefit from medicines, such as small doses of morphine, to reduce breathlessness and cough. Extra oxygen can also be given to someone if their blood oxygen levels are low.

  • Morphine

Morphine in small doses is often used for patients with severe asbestosis. It has two main benefits:

    • reducing the sensation of breathlessness
    • suppressing the urge to cough

Treating Mesothelioma

Currently, there is no cure for mesothelioma unless it can be completely removed by surgery. Unfortunately, when mesothelioma is diagnosed, it has usually already spread beyond the point where it could be completely removed by surgery. In this case, the aim of treatment is to control symptoms.

Different treatments can be used for mesothelioma. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the most commonly used treatments. These treatments may be used to control symptoms such as pain, or to control the cancer for as long as possible. Research has shown that chemotherapy may help some people live longer.

Occasionally, surgery may be used to help control pleural effusions caused by the mesothelioma. However, there is no evidence that surgery can help people with mesothelioma live longer.

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