Moles Could Point to Mesothelioma Risk


A certain kind of skin lesion may offer a way to identify patients at risk for mesothelioma. Experts at the University of Hawaii, one of the world’s top mesothelioma research centers, say they have identified a type of mole present in people who carry a genetic mutation that may raise their mesothelioma risk.

Mesothelioma is a rare but serious cancer of the mesothelial membranes that surround and protect internal organs. Its primary cause is exposure to asbestos. But not all exposed individuals develop mesothelioma. Research conducted by the University of Hawaii’s Dr. Michele Carbone and others found that people with a mutation on the BAP1 gene, a tumor-suppressor known to predispose people to several other types of cancer, also increases their risk for mesothelioma.

Now, the same research team has taken that knowledge a step further by looking for external indicators that a given patient may have the BAP1 mutation. By conducting a meta-analysis of 118 people from seven unrelated families, 63 of whom had the BAP1 mutation and 55 who did not, they determined that a particular kind of mole was present in a large percentage of the BAP1-mutated group.

Melanocytic BAP1-mutated atypical intradermal tumors or MBAITs are small mole-like growths. Although their unique characteristics can only be identified by biopsy and examination by a pathologist, patients and doctors are encouraged to watch for skin changes that might indicate not only a risk for mesothelioma, but also a higher risk of melanoma skin cancer and other malignancies.

“MBAITs provide physicians with a visual marker to identify individuals who may carry germline BAP1 mutations and thus are at high risk of developing associated cancers,” wrote the team in an abstract of their research in the Journal of Translational Medicine.  In addition to indicating a higher risk for mesothelioma, MBAITs also appear to increase a person’s risk of uveal melanoma and cutaneous melanoma.

As with many cancers, earlier intervention gives mesothelioma treatments a better chance at success. It is hoped that the MBAIT report may help save lives by allowing for earlier mesothelioma detection.


Carbone, Michele et al, “BAP1 cancer syndrome: malignant mesothelioma, uveal and cutaneous melanoma, and MBAITs”, August 30, 2012, Journal of Translational Medicine, Epub ahead of print.

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