Researchers in Australia recently found that childhood exposure to blue asbestos heightens the risk of non-lung cancers and heart disease in adulthood. In a study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, scientists focused on health data from children who lived in Wittenoom, a town where blue asbestos was mined for more than two decades. The town is now abandoned.
The researchers found that women who grew up in Wittenoom are 70 to 113 times more likely to develop mesothelioma than the general population. These women also face a four times higher risk of developing brain cancer and a three times greater risk of ovarian cancer. Men in the study faced a slightly lower risk of mesothelioma, but a higher risk of developing brain, prostate, and colorectal cancer, as well as leukemia.
Though the study focused on a very small population and observed relatively small numbers of cancer diagnoses, it’s notable because this is the first study to investigate the incidence of cancer in adults who were exposed to blue asbestos during childhood.
“This is a unique cohort of nearly 2,500 children with quantitative measures of asbestos exposure, exposure to a known asbestos type (crocidolite) and good followup,” the researchers write. “Most of this cohort has now reached an age when chronic adult diseases are becoming more prevalent and potential associations between adult disease and childhood exposures can be explored.”
Data from the study also suggests that children exposed to asbestos face a higher risk of heart disease and “nervous disorders” such as meningitis. A recent study from the United Kingdom also linked heart disease to early exposure to asbestos.
Researchers hope to gain more data when they receive responses to a detailed health questionnaire they sent to people raised in Wittenoom.