Gastrointestinal cancer and asbestos exposure: research shows a connection
How is gastrointestinal cancer linked to asbestos exposure? Asbestos usually enters the human body when people breathe in asbestos dust, but there are other ways of exposure. Asbestos can enter your body not only through your respiratory system (breathing in through your nose and mouth), but through your skin and your digestive system.
The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR) reports that “ingestion—a minor pathway of exposure—occurs through drinking water contaminated with asbestos for example, from erosion of natural land sources, discarded mine and mill tailings, asbestos cement pipe, or disintegration of other asbestos-containing materials transported by rain.”
Though asbestos inhalation is the primary source of asbestos related diseases, asbestos ingestion is another way in which people are harmed by the tiny, toxic fibers. Ingestion is how asbestos gets into the gastrointestinal tract (i.e. the stomach and intestines). The GI tract is part of the digestive system, which includes the salivary glands, mouth, esophagus, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, and rectum. http://www.cancer.gov/common/popUps/
Weitz & Luxenberg provides this article on gastrointestinal cancer and asbestos exposure as a resource for all who are living with gastrointestinal cancer and would like to learn more about the relationship between cancers of the digestive system and asbestos ingestion.
What is gastrointestinal cancer?
A gastrointestinal carcinoid tumor is cancer that forms in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. These tumors develop from a certain type of hormone-making cell in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. These cells produce hormones that help regulate digestive juices and the muscles used in moving food through the stomach and intestines.
Gastrointestinal cancer spreads slowly. Most of the tumors occur in the appendix, small intestine, and rectum. It is common for more than one tumor to develop in the small intestine. A gastrointestinal carcinoid tumor often has no signs in its early stages. (ACS)
If the tumor has spread to the liver, high amounts of hormones (the ones that were in the cells where the tumor originated, and are now in the tumor) may cause the following group of symptoms known as “carcinoid syndrome”
- Redness or a feeling of warmth in the face and neck.
- Shortness of breath, fast heartbeat, tiredness, or swelling of the feet
- Pain or fullness in the abdomen
These symptoms and others may be caused by gastrointestinal cancer or by other conditions. The American Cancer Society recommends that you see a doctor if you experience these symptoms. (http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/
Gastrointestinal cancer mortality and asbestos exposures: a 1997 study's results
In 1997, the American Journal of Industrial Medicine published a study on the relationship between high asbestos exposure occupations and the occurrence of GI cancer. Researchers analyzed death certificate data from 4,943,566 decedents with information on occupation and industry (from 28 states) from 1979 through 1990.
Researchers found elevated proportional mortality ratios (PMRs) for esophageal, gastric, and colorectal cancer, all cancers of the digestive system, among workers with high asbestos exposure. The specific breakdown of who was most likely to get what cancer is interesting:
- Esophageal cancer was elevated in sheet metal workers and mechanical workers.
- Gastric cancer was elevated in supervisors in production and managers.
- Colorectal cancer was elevated in mechanical and electrical and electronic engineers.
The researchers came to this conclusion: “In conclusion, this death certificate study supports an association between asbestos exposure and some GI cancer.”
Norwegian study associates gastrointestinal cancer with asbestos in the drinking water
A Norwegian study, “Cancer of the gastrointestinal tract and exposure to asbestos in drinking water among lighthouse keepers,” monitored the incidence of cancer among 726 lighthouse keepers who were employed between 1917 and 1967. The lighthouse keepers were monitored for cancer from 1960 to 2002, and the study was published in 2005.
Risk of stomach cancer was elevated in the whole group, and in the subgroup with definite asbestos exposure. The researchers found less consistent results for colon cancer. The study concluded that: “The results support the hypothesis of an association between ingested asbestos and gastrointestinal cancer risk in general, and stomach cancer risk specifically.”
Gastrointestinal cancer-asbestos ingestion link too strong to ignore
The ATSDR states that currently, “asbestos levels in most water supplies are well below the EPA maximum contaminant level (MCL),” which means that the EPA understood asbestos ingestion to be a public health threat. Gastrointestinal cancer, like asbestos diseases in general, take a long time to develop. It is past, not current, water contamination levels that are the risk factor here.
If you are suffering from an asbestos cancer and are interested in finding out more about your legal options for seeking compensation, contact Weitz & Luxenberg today. Call or fill out a form for your free legal consultation.