The link between asbestos exposure and the onset of thoracic malignancies is well established. However epidemiological studies have provided evidences that asbestos may be also involved in the development of gastrointestinal tumors, including intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (ICC). In line with this observation, asbestos fibers have been detected in the liver of patients with ICC. Although the exact mechanism still remains unknown, the presence of asbestos fibers in the liver could be explained in the light of their translocation pathway following ingestion/inhalation. In the liver, thin and long asbestos fibers could remain trapped in the smaller bile ducts, particularly in the stem cell niche of the canals of Hering, and exerting their carcinogenic effect for a long time, thus inducing hepatic stem/progenitor cells (HpSCs) malignant transformation. In this scenario, chronic liver damage induced by asbestos fibers over the years could be seen as a classic model of stem cell-derived carcinogenesis, where HpSC malignant transformation represents the first step of this process. This phenomenon could explain the recent epidemiological findings, where asbestos exposure seems mainly involved in ICC, rather than extrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma, development.
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