Mesothelioma has a very long latency period: it could take many decades for the disease to reach a stage where diagnosis is possible. Because of this, mesothelioma is often not diagnosed until the disease has reached Stage 3 or 4. This means that most mesothelioma patients are not able to even begin treatment until the disease is highly advanced, leading to a very short life expectancy (roughly 18 months after diagnosis) for mesothelioma patients. Now, doctors have found new hope in the possibility for earlier mesothelioma diagnoses in the results of a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
An article in Health Day details the study, in which researchers identified a protein called fibulin-3 that may help doctors diagnose mesothelioma at an earlier stage with a simple blood test and a lung fluid test. Essentially, if a patient has high levels of fibulin-3, he or she is more likely to have mesothelioma.
According to study author Dr. Harvey Pass, professor of thoracic oncology at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, “In mesothelioma patients, fibulin-3 was four to five times higher than in asbestos-exposed individuals.” Pass and his team have worked for years to identify this biomarker, as an earlier diagnosis of mesothelioma can lead to earlier treatment and more treatment options for patients.
In the study, researchers observed that levels of fibulin-3 were “significantly higher” in the blood and in the lung fluid of patients with mesothelioma. Volunteers for the study came from New York City and Detroit. The study pool was composed of 92 patients with a mesothelioma diagnosis, 136 patients who were exposed to asbestos but did not have mesothelioma, 93 patients who did not have mesothelioma, and 43 participants who were healthy and had no history of asbestos exposure. The researchers also tested the lung fluid of 74 additional mesothelioma patients, 39 people did not have mesothelioma but had fluid in their lungs, and 54 people who had fluid in their lungs and a form of cancer other than mesothelioma.
This research gives mesothelioma doctors and patients cause to hope, but it is still in very early stages. Next, Dr. Pass is going to test fiburlin-3 levels in people who have no mesothelioma symptoms but were exposed to asbestos. This will help Dr. Pass and his team determine whether a blood test could eventually lead to earlier mesothelioma diagnoses.