According to a 2011 study, a number of cancers not previously associated with exposure to asbestos fibres may be linked to causing gastrointestinal, kidney, throat, gallbladder and possibly, ovarian cancer.

By the latter decades of the twentieth century, and largely as a result of raising asbestos awareness amongst the industries directly involved in asbestos product manufacture, mesothelioma was accepted to be directly and solely caused by exposure to asbestos material, and classified as a human carcinogen (a cancer-causing substance or agent).

Unfortunately, the long period of gestation of up to 40 or 50 years from original exposure to first appearance of asbestosis symptoms when the disease, discovered at a very advanced stage, invariably, meant the victim would not survive beyond a prognosis of 4 – 18 months and the resolution of a claim for mesothelioma compensation.

Until recently, four types of the malignant asbestosis related cancer have been identified as being responsible for causing the deaths of thousands of UK workers and in many cases, spouses and family members through ‘secondary exposure’ to asbestos :

Pleural mesothelioma – lining of the lungs or pleura. Most common and accounts for 75 per cent of all mesothelioma cancers.
Peritoneal mesothelioma – lining of the abdominal cavity and surrounding abdominal organs.
Pericardial mesothelioma – membrane surrounding the heart.
Testicular mesothelioma – lining of the testicles. A most rare form of mesothelioma cancer.

The recent research closely re-examined 14 previous group and two case-control studies first completed between 1950 and 2008. Data comparisons made with cancer-free control groups found an increased number of females with ovarian cancer amongst those who reported a history of asbestos exposure and excess mortality in four of the group studies.

Incidence of asbestos-related cancers have previously been relatively lower in women when compared with men due to exposure occurring predominantly to men working within heavy industries such as shipbuilding, railway engineering and construction. The exceptions being, for example, as a result of ‘secondary exposure’ when men brought home their working clothes containing asbestos fibre dust and females working in schools and other buildings containing friable ( disintegrating) asbestos construction materials. Therefore, ovarian cancer had not been specifically linked to asbestos exposure.

The study also uncovered a previous misdiagnosis, which revealed that a number of the ovarian cancer patients may have actually had peritoneal mesothelioma as a primary tumour with secondary involvement of the ovaries rather than, as first diagnosed, ovarian cancer with secondary peritoneal mesothelioma tumours.

The research is still ongoing and no firm conclusion has been reached on any significant relationship, if any, between asbestos exposure and ovarian cancer.