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Study Highlights Link Between Mesothelioma Incidence and Ovarian Cancer

mesothelioma incidence

New research shows ovarian cancer rates are highest in states with the highest mesothelioma incidence. Researchers say it is because both are linked to the carcinogen asbestos.

Scientists have known since as early as the 1950s that asbestos causes cancer. Malignant mesothelioma is the cancer most commonly associated with asbestos exposure. But women with a history of asbestos exposure face a higher risk of ovarian cancer, too. 

The new CDC study is a reminder that a higher mesothelioma incidence is not the only threat from asbestos.

Asbestos and Mesothelioma Incidence

Before asbestos was linked to mesothelioma, it was a popular insulator and building product additive. Most US buildings constructed before the 1980s contain some asbestos. The asbestos in these buildings can still be a threat to workers who repair or remodel them. 

Asbestos was also used in manufacturing, plumbing, electrical work, boilermaking, and shipbuilding. Workers in these industries still have a higher mesothelioma incidence than the general public. 

Once asbestos fibers enter the body, they tend to stay there. Over time, irritation and inflammation from the fibers can turn some cells cancerous. When this happens on a membrane, it can lead to a diagnosis of mesothelioma

In the last decade, increasing evidence suggests that asbestos can also cause ovarian cancer. Several long-time talcum powder users have sued Johnson & Johnson after they contracted ovarian cancer.  Talc is at high risk of asbestos contamination because talc and asbestos deposits lie close together in the earth.

Mesothelioma and Ovarian Cancer by State

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute maintain databases of cancer cases. The new study started with a state-by-state breakdown of mesothelioma incidence and ovarian cancer incidence. 

The lowest mesothelioma rates among the 50 states was 0.5 per 100,000 people. The highest rate was 1.3 cases per 100,000 people. 

Rates of ovarian cancer ranged from 9 to 12 cases per 100,000 women. When researchers compared the two rates by state, a pattern emerged.

“The average ovarian cancer incidence rate was 10% higher in states with the highest mesothelioma incidence than in states with the lowest mesothelioma incidence,” writes lead author S. Jane Henley. 

Protection From Asbestos Reduces Cancer Risk

Dr. Henley and her colleagues conclude that asbestos is likely to be the link between mesothelioma incidence and ovarian cancer incidence. 

Asbestos awareness and prevention campaigns often focus on malignant mesothelioma. But the central message of the new study is that asbestos poses many dangers. 

“Ensuring that people are protected from exposure to asbestos in their workplaces, homes, schools, and communities may reduce the risk of several cancers,” concludes the report. 


Henley, SJ, et al, “Geographic Co-Occurrence of Mesothelioma and Ovarian Cancer Incidence”, July 16, 2019, Journal of Women’s Health, Epub ahead of print, https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/jwh.2019.7752

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