A new study suggests that the BAP1 gene, which has been linked to several kinds of cancer including malignant mesothelioma, may not be the only genetic risk factor for the asbestos cancer.
Mesothelioma, a fast-growing membrane cancer, typically only occurs in people who have a history of asbestos exposure. But scientists have long wondered why some asbestos-exposed people go on to develop pleural or peritoneal mesothelioma while others don’t.
Extensive mesothelioma research, much of it focused on a mesothelioma “epidemic” among extended families in a particular region in Turkey, discovered that many family members who contracted mesothelioma shared a mutation on the BAP1 gene. This genetic anomaly has also been associated with an increased risk for uveal melanoma, renal cell carcinoma and atypical Spitz tumors.
But new research conducted on an asbestos-exposed family in Belgium suggests that BAP1 may not be the only genetic culprit behind a predisposition for malignant mesothelioma.
Genetic Predisposition and Malignant Mesothelioma
In the new study, researchers at the University of Antwerp focused their efforts on Belgian families with multiple malignant mesothelioma patients who did not overproduce the BAP1 protein as the Turkish families had.
“In this study, we report a previously undescribed Belgian family, in which BAP1 was found to be absent in the epithelial malignant mesothelial cells of the index patient,” reports head researcher Marieke Hylebos, PhD. “Whole exome analysis did not reveal a germline or somatic BAP1 variant.”
Although there were no changes on the BAP1 gene, there were genetic variants. The team detected anomalies in 11 other “cancer census genes”, or genes believed to play a role in the development of cancer.
One in particular, known as RBM15, caught the attention of the researchers, who recommended that it’s role in malignant mesothelioma be evaluated further.
In a summary of their findings in the journal “Familial Cancer”, the research team concludes, “This study strengthens the suspicion that, next to germline BAP1 alterations, other genetic factors might predispose families to the development of malignant mesothelioma.”
Protecting Yourself Against Mesothelioma
Although many cancers are now known to have a genetic component, malignant mesothelioma is unique among cancers in that it also has a very specific external cause, as well.
Asbestos, a mineral used for decades in hundreds of construction, insulation, and household products, is the primary cause of mesothelioma worldwide. As many as 80 percent of all mesotheliomas (and some studies put that figure higher) can be directly linked to asbestos exposure.
The best way to protect yourself against mesothelioma, regardless of your genetic makeup, is to avoid asbestos, which can still be found in most homes built before 1980. Because asbestos is most dangerous when it turns to inhalable dust, owners of older homes are advised to consult an abatement professional before doing major renovation themselves.
If you know you have been exposed to asbestos, let your doctors know, be aware of the early symptoms of mesothelioma, and have regular checkups.
Hylebos, M, et al, “Molecular analysis of an asbestos-exposed Belgian family with a high prevalence of mesothelioma”, June 30, 2018, Familial Cancer, Epub ahead of print