Asbestos exposure has been recognized as a possible cause of colorectal cancer since the 1960s. Occupational exposure and inhalation of asbestos fibers are considered to be the most common causes of asbestos-related disease. However, oral ingestion of asbestos fibers in occupational and domestic settings is now being implicated in the development of colorectal cancer.1

Colorectal Cancer and Asbestos Exposure

Everyone is exposed to low levels of asbestos in the air, soil, and water. Oral ingestion of asbestos fibers leading to colorectal cancer could theoretically come from any of these sources. However, it is prolonged, daily exposure to asbestos that most often leads to disease. Usually, it takes 10 to 40 years after exposure for symptoms of an asbestos-related disease to develop. 

Asbestos exposure is weakly linked with the development of colorectal cancer. The association may be the strongest with occupational exposure to mixed asbestos fiber types within the cement and textile manufacturing industries.2

Risk Factors for Asbestos-Related Diseases

Occupational exposure to asbestos is the greatest risk factor for developing asbestos-related colorectal cancer. Professions with the highest risk of exposure to asbestos include 

  • Construction
  • Demolition
  • Manufacturing
  • Mining and milling 
  • Automobile repair 
  • Firefighting

Additional risk factors for asbestos-related colorectal cancer include smoking, alcohol consumption, and highly sedentary professions and lifestyles.3 The disease could potentially be prevented by avoiding exposure to asbestos. Unfortunately, once an individual is exposed to asbestos, there is no known way to prevent asbestos-related disease from developing.

Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer

The hallmark symptoms of colorectal cancer include

  • Low red blood cell count
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Rectal bleeding 
  • Rectal mass

Additional symptoms of colorectal cancer may include

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal distention
  • Vomiting
  • Rectal pain
  • Weight loss

If you have experienced occupational exposure to asbestos and are currently experiencing symptoms concerning for colorectal cancer, it is important that you make an appointment to see your healthcare provider. He or she can assess your overall health and your risk for colorectal cancer and other asbestos-related diseases. 

Colorectal Cancer and Asbestos