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Asbestos-related conditions

Lung cancer and mesothelioma

In this section we explain how asbestos can cause lung cancer or mesothelioma. You can read more detailed information about these conditions on our website through the links above.

Lung cancer

Lung cancer is the growth of cancerous cells inside your lung. These cancer cells grow to form a lump called a tumour. Read more detailed information about lung cancer.

Most people understand that cigarette smoking increases the risk of developing lung cancer, but exposure to asbestos increases the risk too. These risks all add up, so it is even more important that you do not smoke if you have been exposed to asbestos.

Ask your health care professional or pharmacist for help to stop smoking. You’re around three times more likely to quit with help from support services and medication. Get help and advice on stopping smoking.


Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that begins to grow in the pleural membrane around your lungs. Less commonly, mesothelioma can affect a similar lining around your abdomen or heart.

Symptoms of mesothelioma only develop many years - usually several decades - after being exposed to asbestos. The condition is slow to appear and then quick to progress. Some of the main symptoms are:

  • feeling out of breath
  • coughing
  • persistent pain in your chest or shoulder
  • weight loss.

As mesothelioma develops, it often causes fluid to build up in your chest.  This is known as a pleural effusion. It takes up some of the space inside your chest and squashes the affected lung, restricting its ability to expand as you breathe and causing you to feel out of breath.

Read more detailed information about mesothelioma.

Read next: what to do if you think you've been exposed to asbestos

Download our asbestos information (PDF, 135KB)

We use your comments to improve our information. We cannot reply to comments left on this form. If you have health concerns or need clinical advice, call our helpline on 03000 030 555 between 9am and 5pm on a weekday or email them.

Last medically reviewed: January 2021. Due for review: January 2024

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.