Human disease consequences of fiber exposures: a review of human lung pathology and fiber burden data.
Inhalation of asbestos fibers results in a variety of neoplastic and nonneoplastic diseases of the respiratory tract. Some of these diseases, such as asbestosis, generally occur after prolonged and intensive exposure to asbestos, whereas others, such as pleural mesothelioma, may occur following brief exposures. Inhalation of nonasbestiform mineral fibers can occur as well, and these fibers can be recovered from human lung tissue. Thus, there has been considerable interest in the relationship between mineral fiber content of the lung and various pathologic changes. Techniques for fiber analysis of human tissues have not been standardized, and consequently results may differ appreciably from one laboratory to another. In all reported series, extremely high fiber burdens are found in the lungs of individuals with asbestosis. Although there is a correlation between the tissue concentration of asbestos fibers and the severity of pulmonary fibrosis, further studies of the mineralogic correlates of fiber-induced pulmonary fibrosis are needed. Mesothelioma may occur with fiber burdens considerably less than those necessary to produce asbestosis. More information is needed regarding the migration of fibers to the pleura and the numbers, types, and dimensions of fibers that accumulate at that site. Patients with asbestosis have a markedly increased risk for lung cancer, but the risk of lung cancer attributable to asbestos in exposed workers without asbestosis who also smoke is controversial. Combined epidemiologic-mineralogic studies of a well-defined cohort are needed to resolve this issue. In addition, more information is needed regarding the potential role of nonasbestos mineral fibers in the pathogenesis of lung cancer.
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