Asbestos was banned in the UK back in 1999, but 25 years on it is still having a deadly affect across the country.

Asbestos, according to the NHS, is "a group of minerals made of microscopic fibres that used to be widely used in construction" between the 1950s and 1990s.

The use of asbestos was banned in 1999 so the risk of exposure is much lower now than it used to be.

But materials containing asbestos are still found in many older buildings.

Exposure to asbestos can be deadly and more than 2000 people are dying each year in the UK from conditions linked to the mineral.

Bournemouth Echo: Asbestos is a group of minerals made of microscopic fibres that used to be widely used in construction between the 1950s and 1990s.Asbestos is a group of minerals made of microscopic fibres that used to be widely used in construction between the 1950s and 1990s. (Image: Getty Images)

Does asbestos cause cancer?

Put simply, yes, asbestos can cause cancer.

The UK Government labels asbestos as a carcinogen which is a substance, organism or agent capable of causing cancer.

The UK Government adds: "Chronic low level inhalation exposure may cause pleural disorders, mesothelioma, or lung cancer; chronic high dose exposure may cause asbestosis."

It is almost always the cause of mesothelioma - a type of cancer that develops in the lining that covers the outer surface of some of the body's organs.

The NHS adds: "Mesothelioma mainly affects the lining of the lungs (pleural mesothelioma), although it can also affect the lining of the tummy (peritoneal mesothelioma), heart or testicles."

More than 2700 people are diagnosed with this form of cancer each year and unfortunately there is no cure.

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How it happens is the tiny fibres from asbestos can easily get in the lungs, where they get stuck and cause damage over time. 

The NHS continues: "It usually takes a while for this to cause any obvious problems, with mesothelioma typically developing more than 20 years after exposure to asbestos."

Deaths from mesothelioma caused by asbestos exposure

There are currently around 2500 deaths from mesothelioma each year in the UK, according to the NHS.

The NHS said: "Unfortunately, the outlook for mesothelioma tends to be poor. This is because it does not usually cause any obvious symptoms until late on and can progress quite quickly once it reaches this stage."

The number of deaths is expected to drop over the coming years following the ban introduced in 1999.

Symptoms of mesothelioma

The symptoms of mesothelioma develop over time and typically don't appear until several decades after exposure to asbestos, the NHS explains.

Symptoms of mesothelioma in the lining of the lungs include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • High temperature and sweating (particularly at night)
  • Persistent cough
  • Loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss
  • Clubbed (swollen) fingertips

Symptoms of mesothelioma in the lining of the tummy include:

  • Tummy pain or swelling
  • Feeling or being sick
  • Loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss
  • Diarrhoea or constipation
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The NHS recommends seeing your GP if you begin to display any of these or any other worrying symptoms on a regular basis and tell them about any exposure to asbestos you've had.

If your GP suspects mesothelioma, they'll refer you to a hospital specialist for some tests - including an X-ray, CT scan, fluid drainage or a thoracoscopy or laparoscopy.

The NHS adds: "These tests can help diagnose mesothelioma and show how far it's spread.

Can mesothelioma be treated?

How mesothelioma is treated depends on a variety of factors, including how far the cancer has spread and your general health.

The NHS said: "As mesothelioma is often diagnosed at an advanced stage, treatment is usually focused on controlling the symptoms and prolonging life for as long as possible. 

"This is known as palliative or supportive care."

Other treatments can include: 

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiotherapy
  • Surgery
  • Immunotherapy

Other signs of asbestos exposure

Exposure of asbestos can also cause Asbestosis, which is a "rare but serious" lung condition.

Bournemouth Echo: Asbestos is classed by the UK Government as a carcinogen.Asbestos is classed by the UK Government as a carcinogen. (Image: Getty Images)

Asbestosis can't be cured, but treatment may improve the symptoms, the NHS said.

You may also be entitled to compensation if you have this condition.

Symptoms of asbestosis

Symptoms of asbestosis include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent cough
  • Wheezing
  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • Pain in your chest or shoulder
  • In more advanced cases, clubbed (swollen) fingertips


Symptoms of asbestosis can take 20 to 30 years after being exposed to asbestos to appear.

The condition will be detected by using similar tests to that carried out for mesothelioma including X-rays and CT scans.

While treatment for asbestosis can include pulmonary rehabilitation, oxygen therapy and using an inhaler to ease breathing (if your symptoms are mild).