Pleural mesothelioma is most effectively treated at its earliest stages. However, this is not always possible, as mesothelioma is often diagnosed at a very late stage when the disease is highly advanced. Doctors and scientists have long been searching for a simple and reliable way to screen patients for mesothelioma at an early stage, and researchers at NYU School of Medicine may have found a biomarker that would make this possible.
The NYU team identified a protein that shows up at heightened levels in mesothelioma patients, and this protein can be detected after a simple blood test. If further studies validate this test, it could help doctors identify victims of asbestos exposure who may have mesothelioma at an early stage than was previously possible.
Mesothelioma is a deadly form of cancer that is caused by exposure to asbestos. The disease can take up to fifty years after exposure to fully develop, so when it is diagnosed it is often at a very advanced stage. Thousands of Americans have been exposed to asbestos at home and on the job, so it is important that we develop a way to identify potential mesothelioma patients when early treatment is still possible.
The researchers, led by Dr. Harvey Pass and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, reported that mesothelioma patients showed a level of the protein fibulin-3 that was up to five times higher than in people who have been exposed to asbestos but have not yet been diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Before the study, the researchers had no information on fibulin-3. According to Dr. Pass, “There is a great need for something—some marker or test—that will heighten the alarm that a patient presenting with new onset chest fluid could have mesothelioma. Our findings indicate that a simple blood test may lead physicians to ask questions about asbestos exposure and consider whether the medical history and symptoms are compatible with mesothelioma.”
Study participants, a group of insulators from New York and iron workers and other individuals exposed to asbestos from Detroit, had their blood and lung fluid checked for fibulin-3. Blood from 92 patients with mesothelioma was checked, and 136 people who were exposed to asbestos but did not have the cancer were tested. Lung fluid was tested from 74 people with mesothelioma, 39 people with no cancer but fluid in the lungs, and 54 people with fluid in their lungs and a form of cancer other than mesothelioma.
By seeking out fibulin-3 in the samples, the researchers were able to identify 96.7 percent of the cancer patients, and they also correctly identified 95 percent of the people who had no cancer.
According to Dr. Pass, “This marker is as exciting as any biomarker for mesothelioma today and warrants further research and validation by the scientific community.”