Risk of gastrointestinal cancers from inhalation and ingestion of asbestos

Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology. 2007 Oct 26 [Epub ahead of print]

Gamble J.

International Environmental Research Foundation, P.O. Box 3459, Grand Central Station, New York, NY 10163-3459, USA.


This paper summarizes the weight of epidemiological evidence to evaluate the hypothesis that asbestos exposure is causally associated with increased risk of gastrointestinal (GI) cancers as suggested by Selikoff in an early study of insulation workers. This review looks at populations that develop GI cancers, namely stomach, colorectal, colon and rectal. Guidelines for assessing causality are strength of association, biological gradient and consistency of the associations. Exposure-response (E-R) was evaluated using three methods to estimate exposure. Rate Ratios (RRs) for lung cancer and percent of mesothelioma are used as surrogate measures of asbestos exposure for all the cohorts of exposed workers. Quantitative or semi-quantitative estimates of cumulative exposure to asbestos were also used to assess E-R trends and were compared to E-R trends for lung cancer and mesothelioma in individual studies. Surrogate measures are important since there are few individual studies that have assessed E-R. None of the various methods to estimate asbestos exposure yielded consistent E-R trends and the strength of the associations were consistently weak or non-existent for the four types of GI cancers. The epidemiological evidence detracts from the hypothesis that occupational asbestos exposure increases the risk of stomach, colorectal, colon, and rectal cancer. Findings are briefly summarized below.