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Asbestos and ovarian cancer: examining the historical evidence
  1. Brian Slomovitz1,2,
  2. Christopher de Haydu3,
  3. Michael Taub4,
  4. Robert L Coleman5 and
  5. Bradley J Monk6,7
  1. 1Gynecologic Oncology, Broward Health, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA
  2. 2Obstetrics and Gynecology, Florida International University Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, Miami, Florida, USA
  3. 3Division of Gynecologic Oncology of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, & Reproductive Sciences, No Affiliation, Miami, Florida, USA
  4. 4Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York, USA
  5. 5US Oncology Inc, The Woodlands, Texas, USA
  6. 6Gynecologic Oncology, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Arizona Oncology (US Oncology Network), Phoenix, Arizona, USA
  7. 7Gynecologic Oncology, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Creighton University School of Medicine Phoenix Regional Campus, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Brian Slomovitz, Gynecologic Oncology, Broward Health, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316, USA; bslomo{at}


Asbestos recently returned to the spotlight when Johnson & Johnson halted sales of baby powder due to lawsuits claiming that the talc in baby powder may have been contaminated with asbestos, which has been linked to the risk of ovarian cancer development. Although talc and asbestos have some structural similarities, only asbestos is considered causally associated with ovarian cancer by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. While it is useful to understand the types and properties of asbestos and its oncologic biology, the history of its association with ovarian cancer is largely based on retrospective observational studies in women working in high asbestos exposure environments. In reviewing the literature, it is critical to understand the distinction between associative risk and causality, and to examine the strength of association in the context of how the diagnosis of ovarian cancer is made and how the disease should be distinguished from a similar appearing but unrelated neoplasm, malignant mesothelioma. Based on contextual misinterpretation of these factors, it is imperative to question the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s assertion that asbestos has a clear causal inference to ovarian cancer. This has important clinical implications in the way patients are conceivably counseled and provides motivation to continue research to improve the understanding of the association between asbestos and ovarian cancer.

  • ovarian cancer
  • abdominal neoplasms
  • genital neoplasms
  • female

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  • Contributors All co-authors were involved with the concept, the writing and the editing of this review article.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.