The link between exposure to asbestos and fatal respiratory diseases is undeniable. The scientific studies that describe this relationship are used to support efforts to ban the use of asbestos in the manufacturing of new products, and call for more protective measures for workers who frequently have to handle the material.
However, at Kazan Law, we know that asbestos can have negative effects on more than just the respiratory system. In fact, a team of scientists recently published a report in the journal Cancer Causes Control, in which they linked asbestos exposure to cholangiocarcinoma, which is also known as bile duct cancer.
What is cholangiocarcinoma?
The Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation describes the liver as an organ with many functions, including the production of bile, which is a fluid that helps the liver filter out wastes while aiding the digestive system in the breakdown of fat in the food we eat. After the liver cells make bile, the liquid collects in tubes and drains out of the liver and into the gallbladder for storage via the bile ducts. These larger branches connect the liver to the gallbladder and the small intestine, into which the bile is released once food enters.
Bile duct cancer occurs when these larger, branched tubes develop a malignancy. This diseases can cause symptoms such as chills, fever, itching, decrease in appetite, weight loss, pain in the upper right abdomen that may travel to the back, and jaundice.
The five-year survival rate of this disease is 30 percent in cases when doctors are able to spot it in its early stages. However, only about 20 percent of incidents are found in such a timely manner.
Asbestos may be tied to disease trends
The Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation estimates that more than 2,500 cases of bile duct cancer are newly diagnosed every year in the U.S. However, the incidence is increasing, and experts from the patient advocacy group are not entirely sure why. They suggest that doctors are becoming better at diagnosing the disease.
One team of scientists from Italy decided to investigate whether asbestos exposure played a role in this trend.
For their study, the researchers analyzed the medical data collected from 155 patients, all of whom were treated for bile duct cancer between 2006 and 2010. This information included the occupational histories of the individuals, all of whom were matched with data from control subjects.
Results showed that there was an increased risk of asbestos exposure among the patients who had intrahepatic bile duct cancer, which affects the ducts inside the liver. Furthermore, there was some evidence that asbestos was also associated with extrahepatic bile duct cancer, which occurs outside the liver.
One reason why asbestos may stimulate the development of these diseases is that the mineral can drive inflammation within the body, according to the scientists.
“Exposure to asbestos could be one of the determinants of the progressive rise in the incidence of [intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma] during the last 30 years,” the researchers wrote in Cancer Causes Control.
Calls for better asbestos control become more urgent
The Environmental Working Group estimates that asbestos exposure is responsible for more than 9,900 deaths in the U.S. every year. Out of those incidents, about 1,200 are related to malignant diseases of the digestive system.
This is cause for concern because asbestos has not been banned outright in countries like the U.S., where the material is a common component of automotive parts and insulation materials, potentially putting both trades workers and consumers at risk.
Hopefully, studies such as the recent report on bile duct cancer will urge government groups and manufacturers to become more conscientious.