Improving Screening for Mesothelioma

Accurate and early detection of mesothelioma can improve the prognosis of patients. As current mesothelioma screening methods are still underdeveloped, thoracic and cardiac surgeon Dr. Harvey Pass strives to provide patients with an alternative means of accurate diagnosis through the use of blood biomarkers.

Current Mesothelioma Screening

Screening is a term used to describe a series of tests doctors prescribe to test patients for cancer. These individuals may not present any disease symptoms. The tests are generally administered to higher risk patients in the hopes of detecting cancer at a very early stage.

With only 3,000 diagnoses given across the United States each year, mesothelioma is an uncommon form of cancer. Doctors typically only perform screening tests on individuals who have had exposure to asbestos.

The prognosis of most cases of pleural mesothelioma is generally poor. This is due to non-specific and underdeveloped screening methods for detecting the disease at an early stage.

Current diagnostic procedures for the pleural mesothelioma include imaging tests and biopsies (extracting a tumor tissue sample for laboratory diagnostics). Imaging tests can be effective in identifying tumor formation, however, tumors are associated with later stages of mesothelioma and not early detection. Biopsies follow the same trend, requiring a tumor to be formed before the tissue can be tested.

Challenges in Diagnostic Procedures

There are many challenges facing the current methods of mesothelioma screening. The disease can take up to 50 years to present itself, and can be extremely difficult to detect at an earlier stage. Additionally, mesothelioma presents itself like other forms of cancer found in the chest and abdominal cavity, causing obstacles in making an accurate diagnosis if detected.

Given that early detection of mesothelioma can result in a more favorable prognosis, researchers like Dr. Harvey Pass have dedicated much of their work to develop improved screening methods.   

Dr. Harvey Pass

Dr. Harvey Pass is a researcher, author and surgeon who specializes in mesothelioma diagnosis and treatment. He has been practicing as a thoracic and cardiac surgeon for over 20 years and is currently working at the NYU Langone Medical Center.

Dr. Pass spends a large part of his time researching new screening methods through the use of biomarkers, or biological indicators within the body. Dr. Pass studies blood-based biomarkers to understand how they can help detect mesothelioma at an earlier stage and increase survival rates.

Dr. Pass is the head of the Early Detection Research Network: Biomarker Developmental Laboratory, where he works with two biomarkers (osteopontin and Fibulin 3) to screen for pleural mesothelioma.

New Mesothelioma Biomarker Screening

1. Osteopontin: A protein that controls cellular interaction and signaling through the use of receptors. Studies have shown that osteopontin is heightened in rat cells exposed to asbestos.

Dr. Pass conducted a study in 2005 that compared 69 patients of asbestos-related pulmonary diseases with 45 patients who had no previous exposure to asbestos and 76 patients with pleural mesothelioma. Research findings showed that osteopontin levels were higher in patients diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in comparison to those with other asbestos-related pulmonary diseases.

The results from this study in 2005 were controversial, due to data analysis techniques and variations within the different control populations used. Various other studies have since found that osteopontin does indeed have the potential to be a diagnostic marker for pleural mesothelioma patients.

2. Fibulin-3: Part of a family of proteins found within the outer membrane of our cells, Fibulin-3 involves cell morphology, growth, adhesion and motility. Fibulin-3 is also responsible for tumorigenesis, which is the production or formation of a tumor or tumors. Researchers have found that patients with pleural mesothelioma tend to display higher levels of fibulin-3 compared to others.

Biomarker Screening and its Impact on the Mesothelioma Community

The development of new screening methods for mesothelioma should bring hope to individuals who have had known asbestos exposure in their past. Current screening methods can be invasive and are showing to be ineffective in detecting the disease at an early stage.

Biomarker blood tests are minimally invasive and are very easy to administer. They allow an increased number of at-risk individuals to be screened for mesothelioma. The earlier the disease becomes detected, the earlier treatment can begin.

If you believe you or someone you know has had exposure to asbestos please be in touch with our support team. Our dedicated staff will ensure you have the contact information for a mesothelioma specialist in your area, along with any supplemental information you may need to educate yourself on the disease and possible legal options.