Researchers in England have developed a new test to diagnose mesothelioma and other pleural diseases. Scientists at the Oxford Centre for Respiratory Medicine and Oxford University will publish their study in the September issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
The study, headed by Helen Davies, specialist registrar and research fellow at the Centre, looks at the production of mesothelin, a protein in pleural fluid. It was found that mesothelin levels were six times higher in malignant mesothelioma patients than in those with metastatic cancer, and ten times greater than those with non-cancerous causes of fluid in the lungs.
Because of the high latency period – that is, the time it takes for symptoms of mesothelioma to appear – it is often difficult to diagnose while still in its early stages. As the stages progress and the cancer spreads, treatment becomes more difficult. If the disease hasn’t advanced too far, the growth can be surgically removed. However, depending on the location of the growth and the health of the patient, surgery is not always an option. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are also used to treat mesothelioma, but generally with palliative purposes, to relieve symptoms and spread the growth. As of yet, no cure for mesothelioma has been discovered.
However, with the new diagnosis tool from the study, doctors can predict earlier whether a patient will develop mesothelioma, and begin cancer treatment earlier. Mesothelioma patients generally only have about a year to live after being diagnosed with the disease, meaning earlier diagnosis could prolong life and lead to more effective treatment options.
Earlier diagnosis could help patients file claims for workers’ compensation sooner, as well.
Mesothelioma is a cancer almost exclusively caused by prolonged asbestos exposure. Asbestos use has been highly regulated in the United States since 1989, but is more prevalent in developing nations without strict legislation.