Most workers know that inhalation of asbestos fibers can lead to asbestosis, mesothelioma, or cancers of the lungs or larynx, but a Finnish study has uncovered another disease linked to asbestos exposure. A rare, but serious, condition known as retroperitoneal fibrosis (RPF) has been most significantly tied to asbestos exposure. Hallmarks of this condition are a replacing of the lining of the abdominal cavity (the peritoneal) with fibrosis, which can result in the blockage of the urinary tract and kidney failure. The Finnish study used a high-resolution computed tomography (HRCT) scan to examine the lungs of 22 patients who had been exposed to asbestos and had gone on to develop RPF. This group’s scans were compared to 16 RPF patients who never had asbestos contact, and a control group of 18 who had been exposed to asbestos but had never developed RPF.
The scientists looked at the parietal pleural plaques (PPP), diffuse pleural thickening (DPT), and parenchymal fibrosis separately for each of the patients. The results of the study showed that the majority of those who suffered from RPF and had been exposed to asbestos showed both parietal pleural plaques (PPP) and the most diffuse pleural thickening (DPT), but just a handful had lung fibrosis. Even half of the patients who did not have RPF but had been exposed to asbestos had evidence of parietal pleural plaques (PPP). This contrasted to the non-asbestos-exposed groups, who showed little evidence of lung fibrosis or plaques. Asbestos exposure seemed to be positively linked to the development of a thick DPT and later RPF, since those who had asbestos exposure and RPF showed the greatest amount of diffuse pleural thickening (DPT). Those who had RPF but no prior asbestos exposure did not show signs of lung or pleural fibrosis. The study suggests that there could be links between the RPF and lung or pleural fibrosis, especially DPT, which would cause asbestos to be the root of both.