Diseases associated with asbestos exposure include asbestosis, malignant mesothelioma, carcinoma of the lung, and parietal pleural plaques. In this study the asbestos content of lung tissue was examined in groups of cases representing each of these diseases and in several cases with non-occupational idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Asbestos bodies (AB), which are the hallmark of asbestos exposure, were present in the lungs of virtually everyone in the general population and present at increased levels in individuals with asbestos associated diseases. The highest numbers of AB occurred in individuals with asbestosis, all of whom had levels greater than or equal to 2000 ABs/g wet lung tissue. Every case with a content of 100,000 ABs/g or higher had asbestosis. Intermediate levels occurred in individuals with malignant mesothelioma and the lowest levels in patients with parietal pleural plaques. There was no overlap between the asbestos content of lung tissue from patients with asbestosis and those with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Lung cancer was present in half the patients with asbestosis, and the distribution of histological patterns did not differ from that in patients with lung cancer without asbestosis. The asbestos body content in patients with lung cancer was highly variable. Control cases had values within our previously established normal range (0-20 ABs/g). There was a significant correlation (p less than 0.001) between AB counted by light microscope and AB and uncoated fibres counted by scanning electron microscopy. The previous observation that the vast majority of asbestos bodies isolated from human tissues have an amphibole core was confirmed.
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