Asbestos Cancer – Gastrointestinal Cancer

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All asbestos cancer begins with asbestos—a naturally occurring mineral that can be found in just about any country around the world. Most people once believed that this naturally occurring mineral or compound was actually man-made for mass use. While it was widely used as a building material (and for other uses) for more than 40 years between 1940 and 1979, asbestos was and still is a dangerous substance that is currently banned in many countries, such as Australia, Argentina, Chile, Croatia, and Saudi Arabia. Several countries such as Russia and Canada, do still mine asbestos, and in the United States, the substance is strictly regulated, but it is not totally banned. Asbestos can still be found in roofing, siding, walls, ceilings, floors, pipes, boilers, gaskets, cloth/blankets, protective clothing, cement, firebrick, gunnite, and hot-tops (ingot mold covers and inserts used in the steel pouring process).

Asbestos There are two types of asbestos, amphibole asbestos and chrysotile asbestos. Chrysotile is used for industrial purpose and it is from the serpentine family. Amphibole asbestos varieties, such as amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, actinolite, and anthophyllite are straight and needle-like, unlike the curly serpentine variety. Chrysotile is mined on a large scale in asbestos mining countries, but the practice is constantly under scrutiny and advocacy groups for the outlawing of asbestos are working around the clock to outlaw the practice around the world. Asbestos is the number one cause of fatal asbestos cancer such malignant peritoneal mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the membranes that line the chest (pleural mesothelioma), the heart (pericardial mesothelioma), and abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma). Exposure to asbestoscan also result in lung cancer and gastrointestinal cancer.

While gastrointestinal cancer can also result from genetic factors and westernized diets, exposure to toxic chemicals such as asbestos is not an uncommon cause. Other risk factors for gastrointestinal cancer include age, race, and history of digestive problems.

Gastrointestinal asbestos cancer risk factors include working or living in a place where asbestos is inhaled or swallowed, living with an individual who works near asbestos, and being exposed to a certain virus. It must be noted that workers with the highest risk of developing gastrointestinal cancer as a result of asbestos exposure include individuals in the fields of insulation, mining, milling, roofing, textiles and those involved in the manufacturing of asbestos-containing products.

Mesothelioma Latency Period

The period between the time of exposure to asbestos and the onset of symptoms is estimated at 20 to 50 years, which is why most cases are diagnosed later in life. According to the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, new gastrointestinal cancer cases total more than 250,000 each year and hundreds of these cases are related to asbestos. Out of the hundreds of people who are diagnosed with gastrointestinal asbestos cancer each year, the vast majority are men.

Gastrointestinal cancer affects the organs of the digestive system, including the esophagus, gallbladder, liver, pancreas, stomach, small intestine, large intestine (colon) and rectum. In the early stages of gastrointestinal cancer, there may be very few symptoms, but once the cancer spreads to organs throughout the gastrointestinal system, several notable symptoms may be present. These include: abdominal pain and discomfort, fatigue, diarrhea, shortness of breath, swelling of the feet and ankles, wheezing, weakness, nausea, vomiting, redness or a feeling of warmth in the neck, severe weight loss, and loss of appetite. Diagnostic methods and procedures for diagnosing gastrointestinal asbestos cancer may include: physical examination, complete blood count or CBC, blood chemistry studies, or a 24 hour urine test. If necessary, a biopsy may also be performed. The different types of biopsy methods used include fine needle aspiration biopsy or FNA, thoracoscopy, laparotomy, and thoracotomy.

Treatment for gastrointestinal asbestos cancer and prognosis depend on a number of factors such as the size of the tumor, location of the tumor, whether the cancer can be completely removed by surgery, whether the cancer has spread from the stomach and intestines to the liver, lymph nodes or to other parts of the body, and whether the cancer has recurred or has recently been diagnosed.


Unlike many other forms of asbestos-related cancers such as mesothelioma, gastrointestinal cancers can be successfully treated, and in most cases cured completely as most gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors are slow growing. The survival rate for this type of cancer is considered high.

Treatment options for gastrointestinal cancer, and other asbestos cancers, such as malignant mesothelioma, may include two main types of treatment categories: traditional treatments and new treatments. New treatments include gene therapy, photodynamic therapy or PDT, immunotherapy, intensity modulated radiation therapy or IMRT, and the development of new chemotherapy agents. Traditional treatments include: surgery, radiation therapy or radiotherapy, and chemotherapy.

If a gastrointestinal patient has to undergo surgery, this means that the surgeon may remove the cancerous area and the tissue surrounding it.

Internal Radiation Therapy for Mesothelioma

Radiation therapy is also called radiotherapy. It involves the use of high-energy rays to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells, but it only affects the cancer cells in the treated area. There are two types of radiotherapy including external radiation and internal radiation therapy. External radiation is generated through a machine and internal radiation therapy is delivered directly to the source of the cancer by placing radioactive materials into the body through small tubes.

Unlike radiation therapy where cancer cells are destroyed in the treated area only, chemotherapy can kill cancer cells throughout the entire body. Chemotherapy uses anticancer drugs to kill the cancer cells in the body by injection.

In many cases a trimodality or multimodality approach is employed, which means several treatments are combined for the best outcomes, for a better chance at long-term survival, and/or a better quality of life. This approach may involve the use of traditional methods combined with either clinical trials or a number of new methods such as gene therapy, photodynamic therapy or PDT, immunotherapy, intensity modulated radiation therapy or IMRT, and the development of new chemotherapy agents, as mentioned above, as well as angiogenesis therapies, antineoplaston therapy, mesothelioma clinical trials, interferon and interleukin therapy, and radiofrequency ablation.