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Asbestos ingestion, peritoneal mesothelioma, and digestive cancers are related, but experts do not fully understand the connection. Ingestion is less common than inhalation of asbestos fibers, which causes pleural mesothelioma, but it can happen. Ingestion may directly cause peritoneal mesothelioma and digestive cancers.
Peritoneal Mesothelioma and Asbestos Ingestion
This is a form of cancer that begins in the tissue lining of the abdominal cavity. While it is not completely understood how asbestos fibers find their way to the peritoneum, it may be due to accidental ingestion of asbestos fibers.
Peritoneal mesothelioma begins with tumor development in the peritoneum, the thin layer of tissue that surrounds organs in the abdominal cavity.
From there, cancer may spread to the omentum, a layer of fat covering the abdomen. It may also affect the liver and intestines. Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma include:
- Bowel obstruction
- Abdominal pain
- A feeling of fullness
- Vomiting and nausea
As with pleural mesothelioma, this type is difficult to treat and is often diagnosed in advanced stages. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation may be used to shrink tumors.
A newer type of chemotherapy involving drugs injected directly right into the abdomen shows promise for treatment. Like other types of mesothelioma, the peritoneal form is most often associated with asbestos exposure.
Researchers are currently investigating how asbestos fibers arrive in the abdominal cavity, though ingestion is one major possibility.
How Does Asbestos Get Ingested?
The inhalation of asbestos fibers causes pleural mesothelioma. After inhaling these tiny fibers, they become lodged in the tissues of the pleura or lungs, causing damage that leads to cancer.
Inhalation occurs easily when someone is around asbestos, as fibers are lightweight and easily become airborne. Ingestion is less likely, though possible. This may be how asbestos fibers get to the peritoneum.
Many people diagnosed with mesothelioma worked in environments with asbestos. Individuals employed in construction, shipbuilding, and ship maintenance, areas where asbestos was heavily used for decades, were most at risk.
Ingesting Inhaled Asbestos
Inhalation is the far more common route of asbestos intake. However, it is possible to inhale and then ingest fibers. Workers around asbestos who inhale the dust might swallow it after coughing up and clearing material from their lungs.
Consuming Asbestos Dust
Workers might also ingest asbestos fibers more directly. Airborne asbestos fibers on worksites could settle as dust, landing on food, water, or hands, ultimately leading to ingestion. Even getting fibers in the mouth from a dusty area could lead to swallowing them.
Asbestos in Drinking Water
Another potential source of asbestos fibers is contaminated drinking water. Water flowing through asbestos-containing cement pipes could become contaminated.
Asbestos cement pipes were once commonly used and have a lifespan of about 70 years. As they begin to break down, the pipes can contaminate the water with asbestos fibers.
Asbestos could also get into the groundwater from natural deposits or from industrial sites that pollute nearby waterways. Recent research has found that asbestos can move through soil and into groundwater and streams more readily than was previously believed.
Asbestos in Restaurants and Grocery Stores
Food prepared or sold in restaurants, cafeterias, and grocery stores could potentially become contaminated with asbestos fibers. While this is less likely, there have been incidents of contamination in these locations.
In 2011, authorities temporarily closed a grocery store in Springfield, Illinois, after workers removed flooring, releasing asbestos fibers into the air. This led to possible food contamination in the store, leading the business to temporarily close for cleaning and abatement.
While this problem was caught before it became hazardous, the contamination could be discovered too late in other situations.
Stores and restaurants serving food could contaminate products with asbestos fibers, causing customers to ingest asbestos fibers unknowingly; therefore, people need to understand how to handle asbestos-containing materials safely.
Asbestos in the Lymphatic System
Ingestion is not the only way asbestos fibers could infect the abdomen, causing peritoneal mesothelioma. Inhaled fibers in the chest cavity may migrate from the interstitial fluid into the lymph nodes. The lymphatic system pulls this fluid into the lymph nodes.
If the fluid contains asbestos fibers, those fibers can be transported to other areas of the body. From the lymph nodes, fibers can enter the bloodstream, and from there, they can move anywhere in the body, including the abdominal cavity.
What Other Cancers Can Ingested Asbestos Cause?
Peritoneal mesothelioma is not the only potential diagnosis that can come from asbestos fibers in the abdominal cavity. Studies have linked asbestos to digestive cancers.
One study investigated over 700 lighthouse keepers in Norway. These keepers served between 1917 and 1967. Some of those workers consumed asbestos-contaminated water and had a significantly increased risk of developing digestive cancers.
The greatest cancer risk was cancer of the stomach. More research is needed to define clear associations with other cancers.
How Much Ingested Asbestos Causes Cancer?
There is no definite answer to this question. Experts say that there is no safe amount of asbestos exposure. On the other hand, the risk of developing asbestos cancer increases with the amount, frequency, and duration of exposure.
In general, a one-time exposure to asbestos is not likely to cause mesothelioma or another type of cancer.
How to Avoid Ingesting Asbestos Fibers
For the average person, asbestos exposure through ingestion is unlikely. Those at greater risk work with or around asbestos, including construction workers, shipyard workers, automotive and airplane mechanics, miners, and industrial workers.
While workplace safety regulations currently make exposure to asbestos less likely, the risk remains. To avoid asbestos ingestion, workers should keep all food and drink out of the area. They should also use proper safety equipment, including masks and respirators, to avoid exposure to asbestos fibers.
If food or drinks are in an asbestos-containing area, identifying fibers by sight is impossible. Identifying asbestos fibers requires specialized microscopy. However, a good rule of thumb is to dispose of food or drink in an area that could contain exposed asbestos or if there is dust that could contain asbestos.
Can I Get Compensation for Ingested Asbestos?
Any type of asbestos exposure can lead to serious and deadly illnesses, like mesothelioma. If you have peritoneal mesothelioma or another type of abdominal cancer and think you may have been exposed to asbestos, contact a mesothelioma lawyer.
A lawyer will provide a free initial consultation. If they think you have a case, they can track down the source of your exposure. There could be several companies responsible. They will find out if you are eligible to make a claim with an asbestos trust fund or to file a lawsuit to seek a settlement.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Written by Mary Ellen Ellis
Mary Ellen Ellis has been the head writer for Mesothelioma.net since 2016. With hundreds of mesothelioma and asbestos articles to her credit, she is one of the most experienced writers on these topics. Her degrees and background in science and education help her explain complicated medical topics for a wider audience. Mary Ellen takes pride in providing her readers with the critical information they need following a diagnosis of an asbestos-related illness.
Page Medically Reviewed and Edited by Anne Courtney, AOCNP, DNP
Anne Courtney has a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree and is an Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner. She has years of oncology experience working with patients with malignant mesothelioma, as well as other types of cancer. Dr. Courtney currently works at University of Texas LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes.