It is an established fact that cancer spreads–. Because asbestos fibers are microscopic, they can travel via the bloodstream to any part of the body. Indeed, they have been found and known to have triggered cancer in parts of the body that are quite remote from the lungs proper, such as the intestinal tract and the brain. Starting in May, a team of researchers at the University of Western Australia began a study of people in the town of Wittenoom, located about 500 miles north of Perth. Wittenoom was the site of extensive asbestos mining and milling activity between 1943 and 1966; people living there suffer from asbestos diseases at a substantially higher rate than those in the rest of Australia. One purpose of the study was to determine which diseases are asbestos-related and which would have developed regardless. Part of the study involved finding out if there were links between asbestos and ovarian cancer, a form of the disease that affects about one in every 70 women in the U.S.
The Australian study is not the only one in which the connection between asbestos and ovarian cancer has been researched. A Scandinavian study published three years ago also examined this link in Norwegian women employed in pulp and paper mills. This study did not confirm a specific link between asbestos and ovarian cancer, primarily because the dust to which the women were exposed also contained substantial amounts of talc and other particulates. However, since the odds of asbestos exposure were 2.02 and talc 1.10, it could not be completely ruled out. Interestingly, a similar study was conducted in the U.S. back in 1991. While the initial results in the North American study showed a significant increase in ovarian and kidney cancer in women exposed to asbestos, there was acknowledgement that these findings had not been confirmed in other studies, and that the results may have been compromised by the “use of inappropriate comparison populations” and failure to consider other risk factors. The results of the Australian study are not yet complete, but it would seem that when it comes to a link between asbestos and ovarian cancer, the jury is still out.