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Mesothelioma and Hematologic Cancers: The Radiation Connection

10141315_woman1A multi-center study involving mesothelioma patients from around the world has revealed some new information about the possible connection between mesothelioma, hematologic malignancies and radiation treatment.

The study found that, among patients who had both a hematologic malignancy (like lymphoma or leukemia) and mesothelioma, those that had been treated with radiation for their hematologic cancer had better odds of surviving their mesothelioma than those who had not received radiation.

Hematologic malignancies are cancers affecting the blood-forming tissues. They include diseases such as Hodgkin lymphoma, Non Hodgkin lymphoma and leukemia. Many people with these types of malignancies are treated with ionizing radiation. Unfortunately, this kind of radiation has been shown to raise the risk of developing mesothelioma later in life.

To better understand the connection and the characteristics of mesothelioma secondary to treatment of a hematologic cancer, scientists in the US, China, and Australia examined a group of 3,600 mesothelioma patients. Within this group, they found that one percent (45 patients) also had some form of hematologic cancer. Of these patients, 44 percent had been treated with radiotherapy while 51 percent had not.

When the team compared the two groups of mesothelioma patients, they found some important differences. The mesothelioma patients who had not had any radiation for their blood cancer tended to be older than patients who had had the treatment. They also tended to develop mesothelioma much sooner than the patients whose mesothelioma developed secondary to radiation. The median time to diagnosis was just two years.

In contrast, patients who developed mesothelioma after having radiation for a hematologic cancer usually had a long interval between the two diagnoses – a median of 24 years. When these patients finally did develop mesothelioma, it was more likely to be the epithelial variety, which is usually more responsive to treatment than other subtypes. They also tended to survive longer after their diagnosis than the patients who received no radiation.

The findings appear in a new issue of the Archives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.


Li, X, et al, “Malignant (Diffuse) Mesothelioma in Patients with Hematologic Malignancies: A Clinicopathologic Study of 45 Cases”, April 6, 2013, Archives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Epub ahead of print.

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