Asbestos and Prostate Cancer
Exposure to asbestos, the harmful mineral that has been used extensively in industries from mining and mineral processing to shipbuilding and construction, is most often associated with mesothelioma and lung cancer. Asbestos has also been shown to increase the risk of developing other types of cancer, including colorectal, gastrointestinal, kidney, esophageal, gallbladder, and throat cancer.
As researchers continue to study asbestos and its effects, some evidence is emerging that it may also increase the risk of men developing prostate cancer. Since men are more likely to be exposed to asbestos, this is an important finding. After lung cancer, prostate cancer causes more deaths in American men than any other type of malignant cancer. With more research, it is hoped that better information will come to light about how asbestos could contribute to this kind of cancer, how it can be prevented, and how it may be better treated.
What is Prostate Cancer?
Prostate cancer only occurs in men because it is cancer in a gland that only men have. The prostate is a small gland that is responsible for producing seminal fluid. Cancer of the prostate is one of the most common types of cancer in men, mostly men over the age of 50. There are different types of prostate cancer, and some grow rapidly and aggressively, while others grow more slowly.
One in seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their lives, but what exactly causes it is unknown. Risk factors may include being older, being African American, having a family history of prostate cancer, and being obese. Some common treatments for prostate cancer include radiation therapy and hormone therapy. The latter uses medications to stop the production of testosterone, a hormone that supports the growth of the cancer cells. Surgery may also be used to remove the prostate and chemotherapy is not typically used unless the cancer has metastasized.
Asbestos May Contribute to Prostate Cancer
Not all experts agree that there is a definite connection between asbestos and prostate cancer, but there have been several studies that point in this direction. In 1993, for instance, a study of Danish workers looked at the incidence of cancer in men who worked in an asbestos cement plant. These men worked directly with asbestos. The men had elevated rates of both lung cancer, which is expected with asbestos, and prostate cancer. While the study does not prove that asbestos causes prostate cancer, it does show a strong connection between the two.
When considering how asbestos fibers could cause cancer in organs outside the chest cavity, it is important to ask how those fibers get to these distant organs. There is a strong connection between asbestos and both mesothelioma and lung cancer because people who are exposed to asbestos inhale the fibers which then get lodged in tissues in the chest cavity. In an early study of asbestos fibers in the body, researchers found that 37 people who died from asbestos in the lungs also had fibers in other organs in the body. Asbestos fibers were found in the prostates of several of the men. How the fibers migrate from the lungs to other organs is not fully understood, but it is clear that it can happen.
A more recent study from Finland made yet another connection between asbestos and prostate cancer. This study followed thousands of men and women who worked with asbestos on the job. Along with an increased incidence of mesothelioma and lung cancer in this population, the group had a greater percentage of prostate cancer diagnoses than what is seen in the general population of Finland.
How Prostate Cancer Treatment May Cause Mesothelioma
There are other important connections between prostate cancer and asbestos, including risk factors for mesothelioma. Radiation therapy is a common treatment for prostate cancer. External beam radiation therapy involves aiming a high-energy beam of radiation from a machine at the prostate. The beam travels through the skin and other tissues to get to the tumors in the prostate. There the high energy kills cancer cells.
There are always risks associated with radiation because the high energy of the beam kills cancer cells, but can also cause damage to healthy cells. Over time, the accumulated damage may even put a patient at risk for developing another type of cancer, including mesothelioma. One study that looked at this possibility found that there was a real connection. Men receiving external beam radiation therapy for prostate cancer were at a greater risk for developing mesothelioma, although that risk was still small.
Preventing Prostate Cancer
Because this type of cancer is so common in men, it is important to understand all of the risk factors and to try to take steps to avoid as many as possible. For those men who have or are working around asbestos, the connection between this mineral and prostate cancer is strong enough to warrant concern. Men who work around asbestos need to know about all the risks and should know what their rights are for a safe workplace.
All workers are entitled to know that they are working around asbestos and to have the training and protective equipment that will allow them to do so safely. When workers are not protected from asbestos, the consequences can be very serious. From the known risks like mesothelioma and lung cancer, to those that are just being uncovered like prostate cancer, the consequences of working around asbestos are very real and life-threatening.
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- https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/substances/asbestos/asbestos-fact-sheet - q3
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