It has long been known that asbestos exposure is responsible for the development of malignant mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer, and asbestosis. But a new study conducted by researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai has raised important questions about additional illnesses that may be the result of an inflammatory cascade that exposure to the mineral begins.
The study was not limited to asbestos exposure: instead, researchers looked at the toxic dust that was generated when New York’s World Trade Center collapsed following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The researchers found that exposure to that dust seemed to lead to the development of high-grade prostate cancers among firefighters and other emergency personnel who were on the scene in the days and months after the disaster.
Asbestos Exposure Among Others That May Be Catalysts for Deadly Inflammatory Response
The research into the incidence of prostate cancer in 9/11 first responders specifically investigated the impact of asbestos exposure, exposure to polybiphenols, and hydrocarbons, all of which were present in the dust when the twin towers fell.
The group was led by William Oh, MD, Deputy Director at the Tisch Cancer Institute, who explained, “It struck us as a potential mechanism of action. We know from first responders and volunteers on 9/11 who were exposed to a toxic mixture of dust, that many years later, prostate cancer is one of the cancers that has shown up in increased incidence compared to age-matched, expected rates of cancer, thyroid cancer is another cancer with clear, increased risk. What is unclear is: What is the mechanism of action? Why would breathing that dust lead to an increased risk of prostate cancer?”
The scientists found that the impact of asbestos exposure and the other chemicals in the World Trade Center dust led to a difference in how inflammatory cells responded. They also found that laboratory animals exposed to the dust experienced increased inflammation within the prostate.
“The animals were put in chambers where they were exposed to the (WTC) dust, breathed in the dust, and we looked at the impact on the prostate one day and 30 days later. We found that even within 1 day of exposure, there were multiple changes in gene expression in the prostate, such that inflammatory genes are upregulated. We saw a lot of genes expressed, including genes we know are associated with an increased risk of cancer. We saw changes in prostate tissue itself. Inflammation is an important mechanism of cancer progression, and that was one of our hypotheses, that there would be DNA damage,” Dr. Oh said.