A new article on diagnostic advances predicts some good news for mesothelioma patients and their doctors.
Mesothelioma is an aggressive malignancy that most often occurs in the membrane around the lungs (pleura) but can also arise in the abdominal wall or around the heart. It is known to be caused by exposure to asbestos, but its long latency period and vague early symptoms can make it difficult to diagnose until in its later stages. At that point, mesothelioma is also less survivable.
A pair of Spanish doctors, however, predicts that nanotechnology holds some good news for both diagnosing and treating the symptoms of mesothelioma. Nanotechnology in medicine involves the use of extremely tiny particles to deliver therapeutics and glean information at the cellular level. The authors predict that the ability to deliver nanoparticles directly into the pleural space will be an important advance for managing one of the most common and problematic side effects of mesothelioma: pleural effusion.
Pleural effusion is a buildup of fluid around the lungs that can occur as a result of mesothelioma and other types of cancers and lung diseases. The fluid can constrict the lungs and make breathing difficult. When cells in the fluid become malignant, it can also cause the cancer to spread faster.
After searching more than four thousand research articles on malignant pleural effusion and diagnosis (more than 800 in the last 5 years), the authors made the following observations:
- Most pleural effusion in mesothelioma will still need to be diagnosed using ultrasound;
- Although some biomarkers found in pleural fluid can be helpful in diagnosing mesothelioma, they may not be enough by themselves to accurately diagnose malignant pleural effusion;
- In people with a history of asbestos exposure, biomarkers in the blood, including soluble mesothelin and fibulin, can help identify patients at risk for developing mesothelioma;
- Needle pleural biopsy can be a helpful way to diagnose mesothelioma-related pleural effusion but only if used with ultrasound or CT guidance;
- Thoracoscopy, or the use of a camera inside the chest, is preferable to needle biopsy for diagnosing pleural effusion and for treating it through a process called pleurodesis;
- Malignant pleural effusion animal models will help doctors both understand the workings of this condition and learn to treat it more effectively.
The authors of the article say mesothelioma patients in particular are “likely to benefit sooner than later” from some of these advances.