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Mesothelioma Blood Test May Save Lives through Earlier Diagnosis


There is new evidence that a blood test for a biomarker called N-ERC/mesothelin could help identify mesothelioma earlier and improve outcomes in people at risk for the disease.

Cancer researchers with Juntendo University in Tokyo released a study in 2008 suggesting that N-ERC/mesothelin, a soluble protein released by certain kinds of cancer cells, was “a very promising tumor marker for mesothelioma, especially epithelioid mesothelioma”. In their newest study, the same group attempted to test the value of the biomarker as a warning tool for closer monitoring in populations at high mesothelioma risk.

The new study included construction workers who were part of a large-scale, 5-year screening of people known to be exposed to asbestos, the primary cause of mesothelioma. The screening program, which started in 2007, collected yearly blood samples from 40,000 construction workers at risk for mesothelioma, and evaluated their levels of N-ERC/mesothelin.

Based on the results of those tests, along with medical history and other data, lead researcher Tomoko Hirohashi and his colleagues identified the 62 construction workers with the highest likelihood of developing mesothelioma. Of these 62 study subjects, 2 have already developed mesothelioma. The remaining 60 will continue to be monitored closely since it can take decades for mesothelioma to cause symptoms.

“Since the mean N-ERC/mesothelin levels in the high-risk population were similar to those among patients with mesothelioma and two participants from the high-risk population developed mesothelioma, N-ERC/mesothelin levels may be a useful marker for the early diagnosis of this disease in a large-scale setting,” writes Dr. Hirohashi in Molecular and Clinical Oncology. The team plans to continue to follow the high-risk study subjects to see how many ultimately develop mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer with a poor prognosis, largely because it often does not produce symptoms until the disease is already in a later, less-treatable stage. Construction workers, electricians, pipe-fitters, and others who have worked in jobs that potentially exposed them to asbestos are at highest risk. A simple test to indicate which workers should be closely monitored has the potential to catch the disease earlier when it is more likely to respond to treatment.

Source: Hirohashi, T, Retrospective analysis of large-scale research screening of construction workers for the early diagnosis of mesothelioma”, January 2014, Molecular and Clinical Oncology, pp. 26-30.

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