Resources for Patients and their Families

Colon Cancer

Also known as colorectal and large bowel cancer, colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S. and Europe and the third most common overall. This disease primarily strikes the colon, rectum and appendix. Although women are known to develop the disease, it is more common among men.

Major risk factors include:

  • Age and gender (most victims are men aged 60 and older)
  • Presence of "adenomatous" polyps
  • Family history and genetics
  • Tobacco use
  • High consumption of red meat and diet low in fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Lack of exercise
  • Exposure to the human papilloma virus
  • History of chronic ulcerative colitis (inflammatory bower disease)
  • Exposure to environmental and industrial carcinogens

This last item in the list of risk factors has not traditionally included asbestos. While it is known that asbestos exposure is one of the main causes of mesothelioma, a Yale University study published in 2005 suggests that men who have worked with and around asbestos also face an elevated risk of colon cancer, particularly in those who were moderate-to-heavy cigarette smokers. The researchers theorize that some asbestos fibers are actually ingested through the esophagus, entering the gastrointestinal tract, eventually lodging in the walls of the intestines, where they cause chronic inflammation and ultimately the cellular mutations that lead to malignancies.



Aliyu, O.A. et. al. "Evidence for Excess Colorectal Cancer Incidence Among Asbestos-Exposed Men in the Beta-Carotene and Retinol Efficacy Trial." American Journal of Epidemiology, vol. 162 no. 9 (November 2005).

Myers, Donna. "Asbestos Exposure and Colon Cancer." (30 August 2006)

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