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Monday, June 12, 2006 E-Mail this article to a friend Printer Friendly Version

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Report links asbestos to larynx cancer

Research has linked another cancer to asbestos, according to a report released on Tuesday that found exposure can cause cancer of the voice box, or larynx, and possibly of the colon, stomach and upper throat.

The U.S. Senate had asked the Institute of Medicine to look at the link between asbestos and cancers of several organs that are currently listed in stalled legislation to create a $140 billion asbestos injury compensation fund. It was unclear whether the findings would compel lawmakers to further amend the bill to exclude some cancers that could not be definitively linked to the fibrous mineral.

On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee plans to hold a hearing to discuss a revised version of the legislation. It would expand eligible claimants to New Yorkers exposed to asbestos from the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, as well as people exposed to construction debris in last year’s Hurricanes Katrina and Rita,

Committee Chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (news, bio, voting record), the Pennsylvania Republican who co-sponsored the bill, said the institute’s review of more than 300 studies was helpful but he sought more guidance. “We are asking the Institute of Medicine to give further study and a more definitive answer as to a possible causal connection between asbestos and pharyngeal, stomach and colorectal cancers,” he said in a statement.

Asbestos, widely used in building insulation and other products until the mid-1970s, has long been considered a cause of lung cancer and mesothelioma, a cancer of tissue lining the lung and other organs. Inhalation of its fibers has also been linked to other diseases. Problems can take years to develop. The legislation would remove asbestos injury suits from the courts. Instead, claimants with occupational exposure to asbestos would be compensated from a trust fund financed by asbestos companies and their insurers.

Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions (news, bio, voting record), a member of the committee, said he had not seen the study but any disease not clearly linked to asbestos should not be compensated. “Lots of people have been exposed to asbestos and they will have various diseases in their lifetime. The asbestos fund cannot reimburse them for every illness unless that illness is tied to asbestos exposure,” Sessions said.

W.R. Grace and Co. and USG Corp. are among companies backing the measure. Hundreds of thousands of lawsuits have forced at least 70 companies into bankruptcy. Other companies say they are being asked to contribute too much to the fund, which they say could quickly run out of money and see claims revert to the courts.

The bill failed to overcome a procedural hurdle in the Senate and was shelved in February. Specter and Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy (news, bio, voting record) hope the revised version will have more success. In its report, the institute said a review found consistent evidence of asbestos-linked larynx cancer in a number of studies of both workers and the general population. “Inhaled fibers pass through the larynx and may deposit there,” the report said, adding “there are reports of fibers and asbestos bodies being recovered from the laryngeal tissues.”

According to the American Cancer Society, about 9,500 American will be diagnosed this year with cancer of the larynx, that can also be caused by smoking and alcohol abuse.

Asbestos fibers also pass through the colon, rectum, stomach and throat, but it was less clear how they interact with certain cells, Institute of Medicine researchers found.

The independent, scientific organization did not find enough evidence to conclude asbestos causes cancer in the esophagus. Reuters

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