New Study: Asbestos Related to Most Common Kidney Cancer

Research & Clinical Trials
Human kidneys

Exposure to asbestos may lead to renal cell carcinoma, the most common type of kidney cancer, an Italian study shows.

The link to kidney cancer adds to the horrific history of asbestos, a substance definitively recognized as a cause of mesothelioma, lung cancer and a variety of other respiratory illnesses.

In the past, a handful of other cancers were inconclusively linked to asbestos exposure. However, the research team at the University of Pavia in Italy made its case for asbestos as a probable cause of renal cell carcinoma.

“The findings did surprise me. It was something I had not suspected before,” Stefano Candura, Pavia professor and lead author of the study, told “This was a case report on a controversial issue. It may imply that asbestos is a multitarget carcinogen.”

Asbestos Causes Both Malignancies

Scientific journal La Medicina del Lavoro published the study earlier this year.

The case involved a 76-year-old man with seven years of occupational exposure in a factory, where his duties included cutting asbestos cement panels with an electric saw.

Doctors diagnosed him with kidney cancer and removed the diseased organ. Fourteen months later, he died of peritoneal mesothelioma, a cancer which begins in the lining of the abdomen.

It is a rare, aggressive cancer, and the second most common form of mesothelioma. Peritoneal mesothelioma is diagnosed in fewer than 500 people annually in the U.S.

“Asbestos might be involved in the causation of both malignancies,” Candura wrote in the study. “A causal role of occupational asbestos exposure in the genesis of kidney cancer is supported by several case-control and cohort studies.”

The Italian study marks the second time scientific literature includes a reported case associating kidney cancer and peritoneal mesothelioma. It’s a rare combination. A Japanese study first noted the relationship in 2007.

Although it is not unusual for peritoneal mesothelioma to metastasize and invade abdominal organs, the study shows there was no evidence of metastasis involving the diseased kidney.

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Asbestos Exposure Is Not a Well-Known Risk Factor

Obesity, smoking and genetic predisposition are typical risk factor for kidney cancers.

Some studies have included an association with exposure to several industrial chemicals. Asbestos is mentioned by some epidemiologists.

Many previous patient autopsies have shown the presence of asbestos fibers in the urinary tracts. The kidneys of patients heavily exposed to asbestos contained large amounts of the mineral’s fibers.

“It is conceivable that the two malignancies share some etiologic factors,” the authors of the Italian study wrote. “Asbestos is the most likely candidate. While the role of this agent in the causation of mesothelioma is well established, evidence for a carcinogenic effect on the kidney is conflicting.”

Candura also believes the asbestos and renal carcinoma link could have legal implications with occupational-related asbestos compensation claims and life expectancy predictions.

“There should be greater awareness that peritoneal mesothelioma and renal carcinoma may occur concurrently,” the authors wrote. “The presence of MM [malignant mesothelioma] may in fact prevent accurate recognition of the concomitant kidney neoplasm, and vice versa.”

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