A team of German researchers says examination of lung tissue for minute fibers of asbestos can be a valuable way to identify asbestos-related lung diseases like mesothelioma – especially when it has been many years since the exposure.
Asbestos inhalation is the number one cause of malignant pleural mesothelioma, a fast-growing and deadly cancer that starts in the thin tissue that encases the lungs. But, because it can take 20 to 40 years for mesothelioma to develop, it is not always easy to link a patient’s lung problems to their asbestos exposure. Patients may have forgotten the exposure, or may not even be aware of it, as is sometimes the case with people who have had secondhand exposure to asbestos. In such cases, lung tissue analysis may provide the information needed to identify mesothelioma.
In their analysis of mesothelioma in Germany (also identified as occupational disease No. 4105), the research team observed that the time between exposure and disease development has risen in recent years to a median of 42.5 years. At the same time, the mean age at the time of diagnosis has also risen to an average of 65.5 years. Both facts, they point out, may make it more difficult to link disease with asbestos exposure, making tissue analysis even more valuable.
Writing in the publication Recent Results in Cancer Research, the team observed, “The decrease of median asbestos burden of the lung in mesothelioma patients results in disease manifestation at a higher age. Lung dust analyses are a relevant method for the determination of causation in mesothelioma.” They add that determining the amount and the type of asbestos fibers present in the lung tissue is not only valuable from a research perspective but can also help in predicting how the disease will progress.
Under examination with light and electron microscopy, the predominant fiber-type identified in patients with mesothelioma is amphibole asbestos (crocidolite or amosite). While most patients in the German mesothelioma registry were exposed to asbestos on the job, ten people between 1987 and 2000 were identified as having been exposed at home, by family members who worked in the asbestos manufacturing industry.
Neumann, V et al, “Mesothelioma and Analysis of Tissue Fiber Content”, 2011, Recent Results in Cancer Research, pp. 79-95.