Asbestos and Ovarian Cancer: Is There a Link and How Involved is Peritoneal Mesothelioma?

Ovarian cancer awareness ribbon

Classified as a human carcinogen, asbestos is responsible for the development of several cancers, including mesothelioma and lung cancer. Research has suggested that a number of other cancers such as gastrointestinal, kidney, throat and gallbladder cancer can be caused by exposure to asbestos, but they are still the subject of investigation. A 2011 study conducted by the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research sought to explore the correlation between asbestos and ovarian cancer.

Unlike malignant mesothelioma, ovarian cancer has not been conclusively linked to asbestos exposure. Because asbestos exposure most commonly occurred at jobsites where males traditionally made up the majority of the workforce, women were less frequently exposed to asbestos than men. As a result, the incidence of asbestos-induced cancers in women is fairly low. The small number of ovarian cancer cases among patients with a history of asbestos exposure has made it difficult for researchers to prove or disprove a correlation between asbestos and ovarian cancer.

This Australian study reviewed 14 previous cohort studies and two case-control studies that were completed between 1950 and 2008. The researchers determined that exposure-response relationships between asbestos exposure and ovarian cancer were inconsistent. However, when compared to healthy reference populations, an increased number of women with ovarian cancer reported a history of asbestos exposure. Excess mortality was noted in four of these cohort studies.

This elevated incidence, however, may have been skewed by previous misdiagnosis. When the studies were originally completed, a number of these patients were said to have ovarian cancer with secondary peritoneal mesothelioma tumors. Yet a re-examination of the pathology specimens determined that some of the ovarian cancer patients may have actually had peritoneal mesotheliomas as the primary tumor and secondary involvement of the ovaries.

After re-analyzing the samples, it was determined that in two of the studies, a number of women who had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer were actually dealing with peritoneal mesothelioma as the original tumor. This effectively reduced the number of ovarian cancer patients who had a history of asbestos exposure. At present, more evidence must be provided to declare a direct link between asbestos and ovarian cancer.


After graduating with an English degree from Southeastern University in 2010, Faith Franz came on board as a health and wellness writer for The Mesothelioma Center.

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