Colorectal cancer starts in the colon or the rectum. These diseases can also be referred to separately as colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on where they start. While they have two different names, colon and rectal cancer have many similarities. Subsequently that is why collectively they are called colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer is the second largest cause of cancer deaths in the United States, right behind lung cancer. Colorectal cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the rectum or colon begin to divide abnormally, quickly and uncontrollably. There is even evidence to show a link, and possibly a causal relationship between colorectal cancer and asbestos.

Asbestos Exposure and Colorectal Cancer

Although there is no definitive proof that asbestos causes colorectal cancer, several studies have led scientists to conclude a link between the two.  Each year about 10,000 people die from asbestos-related diseases. Of those ten thousand, many may have also suffered from colorectal cancer. One study by the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that smokers who have been exposed to asbestos have a 36 percent higher risk of developing colorectal cancer than smokers who have not been in contact with asbestos. Similarly, the study showed evidence to prove those who developed asbestosis suffered a higher incident of colorectal cancer than those who were not diagnosed with asbestosis.

Numerous factors play a role in a person’s likelihood for getting colorectal cancer. As stated above, one factor is asbestos exposure. The synergistic effects of exposure to asbestos as well as smoking also increase one’s risk of getting colorectal cancer. Additionally, a person’s health, lifestyle and family history play a role in the development of this disease. Healthy individuals with a high tolerance to sickness and disease may be less at risk of developing colorectal cancer, although the possibility is still there.

Like the asbestos-related disease mesothelioma, many people afflicted with colorectal cancer may not present symptoms during the early stages of development. Some symptoms that may arise however include blood in stool, diarrhea, abdominal pain and weight loss. Doctors agree that the best way to avoid colorectal cancer is to take preventative measures such as fecal occult blood tests (FOBT) or colonoscopies.

Those at higher risks for developing colorectal cancer:

  • Are older than 60
  • Have been exposed to asbestos
  • Are African American of eastern European descent
  • Eat a diet high in red or processed meats
  • Have cancer elsewhere in the body
  • Have colorectal polyps
  • Have inflammatory bowel disease
  • Have a family history of colon cancer
  • Have a personal history of breast cancer


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American Cancer Society

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