Asbestos is something many of us consider to be a problem of the past, but the reality is that it still affects thousands of people’s lives every year.

In fact, asbestos-related disease is one of the greatest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK today.

In this guide, we aim to tackle the most common misunderstandings and myths surrounding asbestos, and advise what symptoms to look out for.

What is asbestos? 

Asbestos is a natural fibre that was widely used in construction and other industries throughout the 20th century. It’s mostly found around pipes and boilers and its main purpose was to act as insulation and to protect buildings from fire.

The most commonly exposed to asbestos were those who worked in industry and in manual labour. However, asbestos was also used in homes, schools, hospitals and other public places, meaning that workers in those buildings have also been put at risk. People become ill with an asbestos disease as a result of the inhalation of asbestos dust – and exposure to asbestos dust can occur across a range of sectors.

What does asbestos look like and who is most at risk?

There are three types of asbestos; blue, brown and white. However, the colours are only identifiable under a microscope, so to the naked eye, it all looks very similar.

Historically, asbestos exposure was highest for those who worked in the following roles:

  • Plumbers
  • Electricians
  • Fitters
  • Boilermakers
  • Shipbuilders
  • Railway workers
  • Carpenters


Those who worked in these trades brought the asbestos home with them on their work clothes, meaning that their families were exposed to the dust as well.

Such exposure, either at work or elsewhere, can cause the development of mesothelioma – a fatal asbestos cancer.

What is mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that takes its form as a tumour on the lining of the lungs (pleural mesothelioma) and is most commonly caused by asbestos exposure.

A tumour can also develop on the lining of the abdomen, which is known as peritoneal mesothelioma.

A mesothelioma asbestos diagnosis means that life expectancy is usually reduced and investigations will need to take place into whether surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy could be considered to improve the person’s future quality of life.

Myth: Only older men get mesothelioma

Although men are more at risk of developing mesothelioma due to working in industries that commonly used asbestos, women can also be affected.

In fact, since the early 1990s, mesothelioma incidence rates in females have increased by almost twice what it was previously.

There is also a misconception that young people cannot develop asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, but this is not the case.

Read how we helped David’s family, after he died aged just 53 here.

What is asbestosis?

Asbestosis is a lung disease and, like mesothelioma, it cannot be cured.

Asbestos exposure causes lung tissue to scar and thicken, therefore causing the lungs to lose elasticity and their ability to function as normal.

People with the condition suffer with shortness of breath and are at an increased risk of developing other cancers.

Other asbestosis symptoms include:

  • Chest pain
  • Tightness around the chest
  • Unexplained cough


Myth: Asbestosis is the same as mesothelioma

Mesothelioma and asbestosis are different diseases. They are both caused by asbestos exposure, but have different effects on the body.

As previously outlined, mesothelioma develops on the linings of the lungs or abdomen, while asbestosis is a scarring of lung tissue.

The main difference is that while mesothelioma is invariably fatal, asbestosis is a non-cancerous condition, however, it can still be life-threatening.

Can I claim for compensation if I’ve been exposed to asbestos?

If you have developed an asbestos-related disease due to asbestos exposure, then you may be entitled to make a claim.

Some asbestos symptoms do not surface until 40 years after the person was exposed to the dangerous fibre. Even if your employer no longer exists, the insurer of the employer can be traced and they can be held accountable for your asbestos-related medical condition.

You can also claim on behalf of a loved one who is suffering with an asbestos-related disease such as asbestosis – even if they have passed away.

Thompsons Solicitors’ asbestos specialists will discuss your diagnosis and any concerns sensitively and support you throughout any legal claim you make. The firm paved the way for asbestos litigation in the UK ever since it brought about the first successful asbestos disease claim to the House of Lords in 1972.

For more information visit our asbestos page, call us today on 0800 0 224 224, or start a claim online.