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Colorectal Cancer and Asbestos Exposure

By Treven Pyles

Posted on May 01st, 2018

Once swallowed, asbestos fibers travel through the esophagus and go further to the gastrointestinal tract, where they will attach themselves to tissue and gradually produce inflammation and scarring. At a certain point, inflammation and scarring give way to a malignant tumor and thus colon or rectal cancer sets in.

Cancer affecting the large intestine is called colon cancer and cancer occurring in the last six inches of the large intestine is called rectal cancer, and is collectively referred to as colorectal cancer. Approximately, 150,000 cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year. Classified as the third leading cause of cancer death, colorectal cancer is responsible for over 50,000 victims every year in the United States. The lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is 1 in 24 for women and 1 in 22 for men. According to estimates, made by the American Cancer Society, by the end of the year 2019, 101,420 people will receive a colon cancer diagnosis and 44,180 people will discover they are suffering from rectal cancer. In general, 65% of colorectal cancer patients achieve a 5-year survival, but how long a person will live following such a diagnosis mostly depends on factors such as the stage of the disease, their age, as well as the type of tumor cells.

Who Is At Risk of Colorectal Cancer?

While some colorectal cancer risk factors such as genetics and age cannot be avoided, others may be addressed to significantly reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer - also known as bowel cancer. A series of risk factors have been identified, including:

  • tobacco smoking
  • heavy alcohol use
  • a diet high in red and processed meat and low in fruits and vegetables
  • obesity
  • being over the age of 50
  • a sedentary lifestyle
  • a family history of colorectal cancer
  • inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease
  • a personal or family history of colorectal polyps
  • asbestos exposure

To be on the safe side, we recommend undergoing a colorectal cancer screening every year if you are at risk. Fortunately, there are several tests available at the moment which help doctors timely detect colon or rectal cancer, such as colonoscopy, fecal occult blood test, sigmoidoscopy, and other tests.

Correlation Between Exposure to Asbestos at Work and Colorectal Cancer

Asbestos exposure, particularly when it occurs in occupational settings over long periods of time, entails a high risk of developing colon or rectal cancer, as several medical studies have shown. Perhaps the most relevant study in this regard is the one focusing on insulators, a very high-risk group of workers when it comes to asbestos exposure. Over the course of the study, the health of 632 people was kept under observation for multiple years. All the insulators who partook in this research had been holding down a job in the industry since 1943 or earlier. Therefore, their exposure to asbestos was significant. At the end of the study, in 1962, the researchers were expecting approximately 3 deaths caused by colorectal cancer. Instead, 17 insulators lost their lives to this harrowing disease, indicating a potential link between occupational exposure to asbestos and colorectal cancer.

Due to lack of sufficient cases to analyze, a definitive connection between asbestos exposure and colorectal cancer could not have been established so far and the studies whose results are available today yield mixed results, which makes matters even more complex. Nevertheless, asbestos is known to trigger numerous serious diseases once it enters the body, as fibers are highly carcinogenic and irritating to tissue. Thus, it is very likely that asbestos exposure can lead to colorectal cancer, so asbestos trust funds have added it to the list of diseases for which they provide financial compensation.

Occupations with High-Risk of Colorectal Cancer

The majority of asbestos-related diseases, including colorectal cancer, is caused by occupational asbestos exposure and occurs among workers performing tasks involving contact with asbestos-containing materials. Unlike in the case of lung disease, it is usually the ingestion of asbestos fibers which causes colorectal cancer in people who regularly handled the mineral on the job or were surrounded by it. After asbestos fibers reach the digestive system, they can easily travel through it and ultimately attach themselves to the colon or the rectum, where inflammation and scarring will gradually take place over the years. At a certain point, usually decades after the worker undergoes exposure, inflammation and scarring give way to a malignant tumor and colon or rectal cancer sets in. However, asbestos fibers which were inhaled can also travel through the lymphatic system or bloodstream and get to the colorectal area, inflicting the same damage.

The following people are now the most susceptible to developing colorectal cancer if they worked between 1930 and 1980, as they would have to handle asbestos almost daily or would perform their job in close proximity to sources of pollution:

If you experience symptoms specific to colorectal cancer and have a history of occupational asbestos exposure, you should seek medical attention at your earliest convenience.

Colorectal Cancer Misdiagnosis

It is worthy of note that misdiagnosis is very common among victims of asbestos exposure, which is why we also advise you to look for a second and even a third opinion if you receive a diagnosis since even medical experts have a difficult time correctly identifying diseases stemming from asbestos exposure.

Misdiagnosis potentially affects over 12 million patients in the United States. Although misdiagnosis regarding colorectal cancer is very rare (0.007%), the consequences of misdiagnosis are quite severe as chances of survival decrease tremendously if the cancer is detected in later stages. Often, patients with colorectal cancer can be misdiagnosed with hemorrhoids and inflammatory bowel diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis, and diverticulitis as these conditions have similar symptoms as colorectal cancer. Therefore, if you have been diagnosed with IBS or hemorrhoids, there are chances that you may actually have colorectal cancer. So, if you feel that something isn't right, make sure you seek a second opinion so that you are diagnosed accurately when the cancer is in its early stage.

How Our Attorneys Can Help You

In the regrettable event you receive a colorectal cancer diagnosis, our attorneys will provide you with quality legal assistance and recover the maximum compensation possible from the asbestos trust fund of your former employer.

The process is simple and requires no litigation, which will allow you to benefit from the money you are entitled to within a shorter time. Because we know how exhausting struggling with cancer is, your involvement in the process will be minimal, as your lawyer and their legal team will gladly take care of most aspects and paperwork on your behalf.

If your loved one has lost his/her life due to colorectal cancer related to occupational asbestos exposure, we can help you recover the compensation you are entitled to. Please feel free to contact Environmental Litigation Group, P.C. and we will strive to achieve optimal results for your asbestos case.