Pleural mesothelioma is a cancer of the mesothelial membrane that surrounds the lungs. It is caused almost exclusively by exposure to asbestos, but research has shown that certain genetic anomalies can predispose people to this devastating cancer.
Now, there is evidence that having a family member with kidney or bladder cancer could indicate a great susceptibility to mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma Runs in Families
Although mesothelioma is extremely rare, even among asbestos-exposed people, certain people are known to be more susceptible to it.
For instance, people with BAP1 syndrome, a condition characterized by a loss of the BAP1 tumor suppressor gene, have been shown to have a higher risk for mesothelioma, certain kinds of skin cancer, and other neoplasms.
Mesothelioma and Other Cancers
Researchers at the Center for Primary Health Care Research in Malmo, Sweden used data from the Swedish Cancer Registry to try to quantify the familial risk of pleural mesothelioma in the country.
The good news is that the rate of pleural mesothelioma peaked in Sweden in the year 2000 and has slowly decreased since then. The bad news is that the chance of receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis was “significantly increased” in families in which a parent or sibling had also been diagnosed with the disease.
More surprisingly, this was also the case in families where a sibling had bladder or kidney cancer. The study did not evaluate the possible connections between these different kinds of cancers, but the researchers say genetics may not be the only factor.
“Shared genetic factors may contribute to the observed familial clustering of mesothelioma, but the contribution of shared environmental factors could not be neglected,” writes Jianguang Ji, Associate Professor at Lund University and researcher at the Center for Primary Care Research.
Dr. Ji and his colleagues say further study is needed to fully understand the possible connection between mesothelioma, bladder cancer, and kidney cancer.
Reducing the Risk for Mesothelioma
Although a person has no control over the genetic risk of pleural mesothelioma, it is possible to reduce the chances of contracting this deadly cancer, even if a family member already has it.
The most important preventative is to avoid exposure to asbestos. In the US, many older homes and public buildings still contain asbestos insulation and other asbestos products. These materials should never be touched and should only be removed by trained abatement professionals.
While repeated exposure to asbestos raises the risk of eventually developing mesothelioma, the EPA has stated that no level of exposure is safe and even a brief exposure could have deadly consequences.
Ji, J, et al, “Incidence and familial risk of pleural mesothelioma in Sweden: a national cohort study”, May 12, 2016, European Respiratory Journal, Epub ahead of print