Procedures Helpful in the Diagnosis of Asbestos-Related Pulmonary Disorders


From the 1930s to the early 1980s, asbestos was extensively used by the Navy, leading to thousands of veterans being diagnosed with severe conditions triggered and associated with asbestos exposure.

After inhalation, asbestos fibers lodge themselves into the protective lining of the lungs causing constant irritation until some form of cancers develops. Many times, asbestos-related conditions can be difficult to diagnose because their signs and symptoms are similar to those of other common and less serious respiratory diseases. Patients may present with cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, or weight loss, or they may be asymptomatic.

Understanding the possible signs, symptoms and nature of pulmonary conditions related to asbestos, can reduce the time to diagnose them and potentially improve survival.

The General Criteria for Diagnosis of Asbestos-Related Disorders

  • A history of exposure to asbestos;
  • Symptoms - Symptoms often do not become apparent until decades after exposure meaning that asbestos-related pulmonary disorders are often not diagnosed until an advanced stage. For veterans, developing a serious asbestos-related diseases remains high throughout their entire life, which is why constant monitoring of their health is essential to flagging asbestos exposure before serious health problems occur;
  • Initial tests - The most common first tests are radiology exams and CT scans of the chest or abdomen. These tests reveal abnormal results, which lead to further testing and referral to an oncologist, surgeon, and radiologist;
  • Identification and assessment of the diagnosis - A radiology scan alone cannot confirm a diagnosis of an asbestos-related disease. The doctor specializing in the area of asbestos-related diseases uses a combination of imaging scans, blood tests, and biopsies to confirm the diagnosis.

Questions to ask the radiologist/doctor if you are experiencing any health problems that you suspect may be tied to past asbestos exposure:

  • Do you see any lung scarring on my chest X-rays?
  • Do you see any nodules?
  • Do you see any pleural fluid?

If the X-Ray Proves to Be Inconclusive, Your Doctor Will Require More Tests, Especially If Something Suspicious Is Detected

A chest X-ray is the most common test used to evaluate the lungs and to determine if you have received sustained exposure to asbestos and to provide information about the severity of the condition. A chest X-ray is recommended for detecting exposure to asbestos only in persons who have sustained high-risk occupations with high levels of asbestos exposure, such as shipyard workers, plumbers, mechanics, boilermen, hull technicians, pipefitters, and machinist mates.

However, only a doctor trained in reading X-rays can determine if a spot on the lungs is asbestos-related or something else. For example, B-Readers are physicians specially trained and certified to interpret asbestos-related lung X-rays, by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Practically, a B-Reader looks for changes or abnormalities on the chest X-ray that can be caused by inhalation of particles such as asbestos.

A chest X-ray may have limited specificity in cases of mild or early asbestos-related pulmonary disorders. Chronic airway obstruction due to asbestos exposure will appear on an X-ray as hyperinflation and emphysematous changes may be present. In addition, chest X-rays are sufficient for the diagnosis of parenchymal diseases such as lung cancer, asbestosis, and restrictive lung disease, but not always sufficient to rule it out.

A more accurate diagnosis requires several steps, including bronchoscopy, thoracentesis, a CT scan, and lung function tests. In the context of appropriate clinical, and radiologic findings, the diagnosis of an asbestos-related condition should also be based on the results obtained from an adequate biopsy.

The purpose of medical testing for asbestos exposure is to:

  • Pick up the symptoms of disease early
  • Discuss health effects
  • Specialist referral
  • Record the incidence of disease
  • Develop evidence for compensation
  • Providing the medical treatment needed to prevent the development of the disease

Showing the Compassion Patients and Their Families Need

Veterans who develop asbestos-related conditions are entitled to compensation from asbestos trust funds and VA claims. The VA recommends veterans who worked in specific jobs with heavy asbestos exposure, to undergo medical examination at a VA hospital to confirm their diagnosis in order to be eligible to file for VA compensation. We highly recommend veterans ask the VA doctors to document all of their findings. If you can go outside of the VA here is a list of doctors that can diagnose you propertly.

We can associate with local attorneys to provide critical knowledge and guidance for your asbestos-related claim. Call us at 760.621.6147 to get a better understanding of the problems you may be facing.

Questions about asbestos exposure? We can help!

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