Background: The carcinogenic effect of asbestos is accepted for lung cancer and mesothelioma, while conflicting opinions exist for other cancer sites. The aim of the present investigation is to study cause-specific mortality of women compensated for asbestosis who had certainly been exposed to high levels of asbestos fibers.
Methods: The cause-specific mortality of all Italian women compensated for asbestosis and alive December 31, 1979, was investigated through October 30, 1997. In the total cohort, which included 631 subjects, 277 deaths occurred. Cause-specific SMRs (Standardized Mortality Ratio) were computed using the national rates for comparison.
Results: A significantly increased mortality for all diseases related to asbestos exposure was observed. Mortality for all causes, all neoplasms, lung cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, and non-neoplastic respiratory diseases was significantly increased. Separate analyses for textile (n = 276) and asbestos-cement (n = 278) workers were performed. Women employed in the textile industry, mainly exposed to chrysotile, who are compensated at a younger age, showed higher SMRs for lung cancer and asbestosis. Women in the asbestos-cement industry, mainly exposed to crocidolite containing asbestos mixtures, experienced higher mortality for pleural malignancies.
Conclusions: The role of asbestos exposure in the development of gastrointestinal and genital neoplasms is discussed.