Evaluation of potential gastrointestinal carcinogenicity associated with the ingestion of asbestos

Rev Environ Health. 2020 Sep 23;36(1):15-26. doi: 10.1515/reveh-2020-0061. Print 2021 Mar 26.


The inhalation of asbestos, depending on the fiber type and dose, may be associated with the development of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. However, little is known about the potential adverse effects associated with the ingestion of asbestos. Evidence of asbestos fibers released from asbestos-cement pipes used in water distribution systems has led to concerns of potentially contaminated drinking water. The purpose of this study is to determine whether ingestion of asbestos fibers may lead to cancerous effects on the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Data from animal and human studies were analyzed using a weight-of-evidence approach to evaluate the potential risk of GI cancers associated with asbestos ingestion. Seventeen human and 23 animal studies were identified and evaluated in this study. Animal studies were conducted in multiple species with inconsistent dosing protocols. Overall, animal studies reported that the asbestos fibers, irrespective of fiber type and dose, failed to produce any definitive GI carcinogenic effect. The 17 identified human epidemiological studies reported the ingestion of asbestos-contaminated water with concentrations from 1 to 71,350 million fibers per liter (MFL). A majority of the epidemiology studies reported statistically significant increases in multiple GI-specific cancers. However, these findings are confounded due to several critical study limitations including flawed study design, small sample size, selection bias, lack of individual exposure history, lack of adequate latency, and the inability to account for confounders including occupational history, diet, and smoking history. Based on our weight-of-evidence assessment, there is insufficient evidence of causality between the ingestion of asbestos and an increased incidence of GI cancers.

Keywords: asbestos; drinking water; epidemiology; gastrointestinal cancer; ingestion.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Asbestos / toxicity*
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Humans
  • Mesothelioma / chemically induced
  • Mesothelioma / epidemiology
  • Mesothelioma / pathology


  • Asbestos