Malignant mesothelioma, the rare but aggressive cancer of the lungs almost exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos, most affects those who worked with the hazardous fiber, and their families.
Researchers at Oxford University will publish a study in the September issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine that outlines a new technique for diagnosing mesothelioma. Experts say the new test may help doctors detect the cancer more rapidly, and without invasive measures that may make treatment difficult. Diagnosis, hampered by mesothelioma’s long latency period, often isn’t made until direct symptoms of the disease are present, a process that could take years or decades to happen.
The new test measures protein levels of the mesothelium the protective membrane surrounding each of the body’s organs against those of healthy patients. Mesothelioma patients generally show levels of the protein that are ten times greater than those without the rare disease. The study, which was carried out using samples from over 200 patients, is more specific than current tests, as the tests used now detect general signs of cancer that might not necessarily be mesothelioma-related.
Although researchers have not yet announced how much earlier diagnosis can now be made, their findings will allow doctors a greater chance to treat the disease. Treatment of mesothelioma depends on the stage of the disease and the health of the patient and doctors usually don’t diagnose it until it has advanced to late stages, leaving most patients only a year to live.
Asbestos, which is the cause of most cases of mesothelioma, was used in building materials, insulators, and consumer goods throughout much of the twentieth century. The material became strictly regulated in the United States in the late-1980s after it had been linked to lung cancer and other pleural diseases, including mesothelioma. Currently, most developed countries have legislated the use of asbestos to prevent exposure; however, many developing countries do not have such restrictions in place.