Asbestos Exposure on the Job May Increase Risk for Head and Neck Cancer

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Asbestos exposure frequently is linked to an increased likelihood of developing mesothelioma, a fatal cancer that affects the lungs. But asbestos exposure can cause other types of cancer as well.

For a healthy body to develop cancer to begin with, there needs to be a certain level of exposure to the cancer-causing toxin to kickstart or as the scientists say, initiate the cancer process. It can be an enormous amount of exposure all at once, like the radiation from the atomic bomb exploded in Hiroshima, Japan during World War II.  Or it can be a little bit of exposure every day over years that ultimately builds up to reach a tipping point resulting in cancer. This is the way asbestos exposure causes cancer and it mostly happens through exposure on the job day after day.  These jobs are often in construction and manufacturing because most asbestos around today occurs in the form of particles in concrete, joint compound and insulation products.

A new study done by the combined research efforts of scientists at Brown University, Boston University and University College Cork, Ireland suggests that occupational asbestos exposure may cause cancer of the head and neck.  The scientists first presented their findings at a recent meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research. An abstract of the study appeared in the medical journal Cancer Research.

The scientists compared information they gathered in the greater Boston area on 934 people with head and neck cancer to 1, 180 people who did not have cancer. The subjects were matched for age, gender, and town or neighborhood of residence. They all completed extensive questionnaires that the scientists analyzed for history of asbestos exposure, socio-demographics and personal characteristics, alcohol and tobacco use, personal and family cancer history, and other relevant dietary, occupational, residential and medical exposures.

Those exposed to asbestos at work had a higher risk for head and neck cancer, particularly the areas of the throat and neck known as the larynx and the pharynx. “These observations are consistent with the mounting evidence that asbestos is a risk factor for pharyngeal and laryngeal cancer[1],” the researchers state in their conclusion.



[1] Cancer Research: April 15, 2013; Volume 73, Issue 8, Supplement 1
doi: 10.1158/1538-7445.AM2013-3627
Proceedings: AACR 104th Annual Meeting 2013; Apr 6-10, 2013; Washington, DC

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