Asbestos Exposure and Health Risks

Studies showed that asbestos exposure causes an estimated 255,000 deaths annually. Among these numbers, about 233,000 deaths involved work-related exposures.

Because of the high occurrence of asbestos exposure worldwide based on these numbers, affected individuals may require counseling and treatment to help them manage their condition and symptoms. In this case, pharmacists can play a role in helping out these people.

Asbestos exposure can lead to various health risks like mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer affecting the lung and abdomen tissues.

The Mesothelioma Group website offers helpful information about mesothelioma stages, prevention, and treatment options to help manage the disease’s symptoms.

What is the role of pharmacists in the treatment and counseling of individuals concerned with asbestos exposure? How is getting exposed to asbestos a health risk?

This article explains a pharmacist’s role in providing counseling and treatment options to help with asbestos exposure. The write-up also discusses the health risks of asbestos exposure.

The Role of Pharmacists in the Treatment and Counseling of Asbestos Exposure Health Risks

Asbestos exposure can lead to several diseases, like mesothelioma and lung cancer. Treatment for such diseases and their symptoms often involves multidisciplinary methods, including surgery to remove cancerous tissue. But the mainstay treatments for cancer are usually drug-related.

This significant role of drugs means that an oncological pharmacist plays an essential part in the patient’s fight against the disease.

Oncological pharmacists are involved in the assessment, diagnosis, treatment decision, symptom management, and medication management for the care of individuals with cancer.

The pharmacists’ field of expertise allows them to be an intermediary between patients and doctors and help patients understand the details of drug therapy and its mechanism of action.

Additionally, providing training to pharmacists can help them gain advanced capabilities in assisting patients in managing their diseases.

Also, advancements in therapies, including positive outcomes in immunotherapy, require pharmacists to bridge the skill gap to best qualify a medication based on the patient’s specific condition.

Aside from these advancements, the pharmacist’s scope has significantly changed, shifting toward patient care and away from dispensing activities.

This situation puts pharmacists in a prime position to integrate cancer-screening initiatives into their practice.

Regulating pharmacy technicians can also strengthen the feasibility of community pharmacists by becoming more involved in cancer-screening efforts. 

Pharmacy technicians are medical professionals working alongside pharmacists, helping the latter free up time previously allocated to dispensing.

Patients seeking advice from pharmacists about cancer signs and symptoms often visit pharmacies for health information. One study mentioned that around 1% to 25% of patients who sought advice from pharmacists have tried purchasing medication to help treat cancer symptoms.

These results suggest that pharmacists can participate in the early detection and prevention of cancer. These professionals can educate patients on strategies that can help lower the risk of asbestos exposure and the incidence of specific cancers.

Pharmacists are among the most accessible healthcare professionals. Hence, simple cancer-screening measures, like educating about asbestos exposure, performed in a pharmacy can affect patient involvement in cancer-screening programs.

One systematic literature review analyzing the pharmacist’s role in providing early cancer detection mentioned that there’s a significant potential for community pharmacies to deliver cancer education and screening interventions.

This finding suggests that screening in community pharmacies can help identify those likely exposed to asbestos or individuals at higher risk of developing cancer. Health screening in community pharmacies can be an effective way to improve participation in screening programs.

Health Risks of Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos is present in the air, water, and soil, often at low levels, so anyone can get exposed to asbestos at any time during their life.

But most people don’t immediately get ill from such low-level exposure. Instead, those who become sick are the ones exposed to asbestos frequently. These high-risk individuals often work directly with the material.

Breathing asbestos can cause tiny asbestos fibers to get stuck in the lungs and irritate lung tissues, potentially leading to the following diseases:

  • Asbestosis: A scarring in the lungs due to inhaling asbestos fibers. When the lungs are scarred, oxygen and carbon dioxide can’t pass easily through these organs, making breathing difficult.

Asbestosis often occurs in people exposed to high amounts of asbestos for a long time. Symptoms usually appear after many years.

  • Pleural disease: A non-cancerous lung condition leading to changes in the pleura (tissue around the chest cavity and lungs).

This disease can cause the membrane to become thick in isolated areas (pleural plaques) or throughout (diffuse pleural thickening). Fluid can also build up around the lungs (pleural effusion).

Although not everyone with pleural disease will have breathing difficulties, some can have reduced lung function efficiency.

  • Lung cancer: A malignant tumor that attacks and clogs the lungs’ air passages. Asbestos exposure and tobacco smoking significantly increase the likelihood of developing lung cancer.
  • Mesothelioma: A rare cancer of the pleura and can also affect the tissue lining the abdominal cavity (peritoneum) or other internal organs. Mesothelioma symptoms may not manifest until 30 to 40 years after asbestos exposure.

Aside from lung cancer and mesothelioma, asbestos exposure can also lead to cancer of the ovary and larynx.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also mentioned that asbestos exposure could also cause pharynx (throat), colorectum (colon and rectum), and stomach cancer.

Visit the National Cancer Institute’s website at or call 1-800-422-6237 to learn about cancer and how pharmacists can help lower or prevent asbestos exposure risk.


  1. Global Asbestos Disaster

  1. The Role of Hematology/Oncology Pharmacists

  1. The community pharmacist’s role in cancer screening and prevention

  1. Cancer detection and the community pharmacist

  1. Promoting the early detection of cancer: a systematic review of community pharmacy-based education and screening interventions

  1. Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk

  1. Health Effects of Asbestos