You discovered just how vile asbestos is the minute your doctor handed you a mesothelioma diagnosis. But it turns out that mesothelioma is not the only cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.
Researchers from France have linked at least four other cancers to the deceptively toxic mineral once hailed as an essential ingredient for safer living.
The additional malignancies include cancer of the oesophagus, colorectal cancer, liver cancer and potentially all cancers of the digestive system.
While shocking to learn that asbestos also causes those cancers, the most shocking aspect is that mesothelioma remains the only cancer caused exclusively by asbestos exposure.
With the other cancers, asbestos exposure may be one of a number of causal factors, the researchers explained in an online edition of the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Workers Were Heavily Exposed to Asbestos
The authors of “Digestive cancers and occupational asbestos exposure: incidence study in a cohort of asbestos plant workers” are from the Université de Caen (on the Normandy peninsula) and the Université de Lorraine in Nancy. Also participating were scientists from a research facility in Condé-sur-Noireau.
The researchers said they wanted to estimate the incidence of digestive cancers among employees exposed to asbestos as a consequence of working in plants were asbestos was processed.
They figured that those types of workers would be the most useful to study, since anyone with a job in an asbestos plant was likely to be the most heavily exposed to the mineral.
The researchers managed to identify 2,024 such workers for this investigation. The researchers then reviewed each worker’s medical records as far back as 1978.
Differences between the ages of the participants and variations in the number of years of asbestos exposure each had suffered were leveled out by using a statistical tool known as a job-exposure matrix.
Based on that and other statistical tools, the researchers predicted they would encounter 77 cases of digestive system cancers among the study’s cohort. Instead, they found 119 such cases – many more than expected.
Additionally, the researchers noted that the other cancers they observed within the cohort occurred at rates significantly higher than those within the general population.
Also, the researchers determined that asbestos plant workers who had at least 25 years of asbestos exposure ran an excessive risk of a developing colorectal cancer.
Other troubling findings were for women who worked at an asbestos plant. Among them, there was a significantly elevated incidence of peritoneal mesothelioma.
How Asbestos Causes Mesothelioma
The problem with asbestos generally is that it is a mineral that consists of long, very thin fibers. When jostled, these tend to shed and become airborne.
Once in the air, they float like particles of dust. They can stay in the air for hours before settling — only to be kicked back up if stirred by even a slight draft or person walking past.
While in the air, there is a danger that the fibers can be inhaled or ingested. The fibers then remain trapped inside the body and eventually cause cells to mutate into cancer.
Until now, the only cancer into which cells were thought to mutate was mesothelioma — either the pleural or peritoneal form of it.
“Our results are in favor of a link between long-duration asbestos exposure and colorectal cancer in men,” the researchers wrote.
“[The findings] also suggest a relationship between asbestos exposure and cancer of the oesophagus in men. Finally, our results suggest a possible association with small intestine and liver cancers in men.”