Asbestos and gastrointestinal cancer. A review of the literature

West J Med. 1985 Jul;143(1):60-5.


Exposure to asbestos is among several factors cited as possible causes of esophageal, gastric and colorectal cancer. More than 45 published studies have presented mortality data on asbestos-exposed workers. For each cohort, we listed the observed and expected rates of deaths from types of gastrointestinal cancer based on the latest published follow-up. Summary standardized mortality ratios (SMRs) were then derived. Finally, we calculated summary SMRs for total gastrointestinal tract cancer for three occupational groups: asbestos factory workers, insulators/shipyard workers and asbestos miners. Statistically significant elevations in summary SMRs were found for esophageal, stomach and total gastrointestinal tract cancer in all asbestos-exposed workers. Esophageal cancer summary SMRs remained significantly elevated when data were reanalyzed to include only those cohorts with death certificate diagnoses for cause of observed deaths. However, summary SMRs were not statistically significant for stomach and total gastrointestinal tract cancer after reanalysis. Summary SMRs by occupational group showed a significant elevation for total gastrointestinal cancer in insulators/shipyard workers. The elevation was not significant after reanalysis. Based on the results after reanalysis, the elevations in summary SMRs for stomach and total gastrointestinal tract cancer are of a magnitude that could result from diagnostic and investigator error. We conclude that more studies are required before stomach and colorectal cancers are documented as asbestos-related diseases.

MeSH terms

  • Asbestos / adverse effects*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / etiology
  • Colonic Neoplasms / mortality
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / etiology
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / mortality
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / mortality
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology*
  • Rectal Neoplasms / etiology
  • Rectal Neoplasms / mortality
  • Risk
  • Stomach Neoplasms / etiology
  • Stomach Neoplasms / mortality


  • Asbestos