Can Asbestos Cause Colon Cancer

Cancer |

Q.Can asbestos exposure be linked to colon cancer? My husband was a firefighter and was exposed to asbestos insulation at a fire years ago. He recently died of colon cancer.

A.Asbestos exposure, even for short time periods, has been well-documented to lead to certain cancers. The most common cancers found in patients exposed to asbestos are lung cancer and the rare mesothelioma (cancer of the lining of the lung). These risks are increased if the person also smoked cigarettes.

A.However, asbestos has not been linked with colon cancer. Although most colon cancers have no known cause, there are certain known risk factors. Some people also have an inherited tendency toward developing colon cancer. Also at increased risk are patients suffering from certain inflammatory disorders of the colon, such as ulcerative colitis. Lifestyle factors associated with colon cancer include a low-fiber, high-fat diet and consumption of char-broiled meat. In addition, an increased risk of colon cancer has been found among people working as model makers in the automobile industry, but the exact connection is unknown.

Colon cancer is a very common cause of cancer, accounting for more than 130,000 new cases of cancer per year and over 55,000 deaths. It is the second most common cause of cancer death after lung cancer. Thus, it is important to diagnose this disease at its earliest stages (as a precancerous colon polyp) and treat it if possible (by surgical removal of polyps). This approach has been found to reduce the death rate from colon cancer.

A.Screening for colon cancer, with sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy and fecal occult blood testing, is recommended for all people over age 50, as well as certain younger people with a family history of colon cancer or colitis. Consultation with a gastroenterologist is recommended to discuss these issues further for the individual patient.