Our digestive tract is a complex system comprised of several different parts that all work together to keep your body nourished with vitamins and nutrients from your food. Cancer that affects the gastrointestinal tract can hit anywhere in the digestive tract, starting with the esophagus and then going to the gallbladder, liver, pancreas, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and lastly, the rectum.
While we primarily think of asbestos as a carcinogen that attacks the lungs with cancers such as mesothelioma, it can actually cause gastrointestinal cancer as well. This is because asbestos can be ingested as well as inhaled. This happens when a person gets asbestos fibers in his or her mouth through exposure to things such as asbestos dust. The fibers can become caught in the saliva, which are then swallowed and passed into the digestive tract.
The problem with asbestos fibers, whether ingested or inhaled, is that our bodies cannot break them down. When they lodge into our systems, they are stuck there. Our bodies are forced to create nodules of extra tissue around the fibers, which can cause scarring that can turn into cancerous tumors. Additionally, these fibers are microscopic in scope, which means that you may not know that you are ingesting them.
Sadly, the widespread use of asbestos during the 20th century meant that many people were exposed to the material before it was mostly banned in the late 1980s. While asbestos is not very susceptible to biodegradation, age and friction can both lead to the wearing down of the object containing the carcinogen, which leads to the release of fibers. For example, asbestos is often a part of brake pads. However, as we use our brakes, the friction from stopping the car leads to the breakdown of asbestos. When the pads are changed, it can release clouds of asbestos into the air.
Asbestos from the air can be ingested, resulting in gastrointestinal cancers. This is a broad spectrum of cancer that gains about 250,000 new cases per year in the United States alone. Some common types of gastrointestinal cancers include:
Colorectal – the third most common cancer overall in both men and women
Stomach – also known as gastric
Extrahepatic bile duct
When doctors operate to remove gastrointestinal cancerous tumors, it can remove parts of your body that are necessary to keep you alive. You may have to live on special intravenous liquid nutrition or have special reconstruction surgery to keep you functioning as normally as possible.