Scientists around the world are working on better ways to diagnose mesothelioma. One of the problems with this cancer is that many people are diagnosed after the cancer has grown and spread. Doctors believe that earlier diagnosis may lead to more effective treatments because the cancer would be found when it is much smaller and more manageable. There are many examples of these new mesothelioma diagnostic techniques. Here are just a few:

Breath Analysis

Belgian scientists are working on a new breath analysis tool to screen for early signs of malignant mesothelioma. The system measures the levels of specific volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that people exhale. VOCs are organic compounds that are gaseous at room temperature such as nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, etc. Interestingly, people with mesothelioma tend to exhale different levels of VOCs than other people. This difference, if detected, could lead clinicians to earlier diagnosis.

DNA Mutations

The Mayo Clinic is studying a new technique called as Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) or “high-throughput sequencing” to quickly and accurately analyze a patient’s DNA to find mutations related to pleural or peritoneal mesothelioma. Although mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure, as with most cancers, there are genetic changes or mutations to the mesothelioma cancer cells. This test could detect those changes and, theoretically, detect the cancer before symptoms occur in some patients.

New Biomarkers

Biomarkers are biological signposts that can be found in a patient’s blood, lung fluid, or tissue. These signposts provide a fingerprint for malignant mesothelioma and today many new ones are being tested, including:

  • Circulating proteomic and microRNA signatures
  • Fibulin-3
  • Glycopeptides
  • Pleural fluid FISH assay
  • Hyaluronate/N-ERC mesothelin

If one or more of these biomarkers prove to be consistent and reliable across different populations of patients they could become the much sought after early diagnostic tool for malignant mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma Cancer Prediction

Is it possible to predict which individual may be diagnosed with mesothelioma in the future? Australian scientists are looking at a new method to predict asbestos exposure levels of various types of workers. Using these models, the researchers hope to be able to predict mesothelioma rates for various industries and time periods. If such a “Predictor” proved accurate it could help doctors identify at risk individuals well before they are diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Shoulder Pain

While reviewing the medical records of their mesothelioma patients, Polish researchers made an interesting observation, 7 of 49 (14%) of the mesothelioma patients had listed shoulder pain as their very first symptom of their cancer. The researchers concluded that mesothelioma may impact the nervous and motor systems. If this proves to be correct, there may be specific symptoms that can lead to clinicians to make a much earlier diagnosis of mesothelioma.