A new study suggests that asbestos, the primary trigger for almost all cases of malignant mesothelioma, may do more than cause the disease—it may also play a role in how quickly it grows and spreads.
Malignant mesothelioma is typically a disease of old age. Once inhaled or swallowed, it can take decades for asbestos fibers to work their way into tissues and wreak havoc with the DNA of mesothelial cells.
But the new joint Italian/American study suggests that that time may be significantly shortened in cases of heavy exposure.
Researchers at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina and the National Tumor Institute in Milan have found that the younger a person is at the time of their mesothelioma diagnosis, the heavier their exposure to asbestos was likely to have been.
More Asbestos = Earlier Diagnosis
The new report evaluates the cases of 594 malignant pleural mesothelioma patients for whom there was data available on the actual amount of asbestos bodies and fibers in their lung tissues.
The researchers also considered other factors that could have impacted the development of their mesothelioma including gender, tumor location, histological subtype and whether they were exposed to asbestos as children.
“For both measures of asbestos in lung tissue, younger age at diagnosis was associated with higher internal measures of exposure to asbestos,” states Italian researcher Tommaso A Dragani, first author on the paper published in Carcinogenesis. “None of the other variables considered was associated with age at diagnosis.”
Asbestos May Do More Than Cause Mesothelioma
Scientists already knew that the reverse was true: People are more likely to eventually get a mesothelioma diagnosis if their asbestos exposure occurred early in life. This is likely because of mesothelioma’s long latency period.
But the idea that early diagnosis may indicate heavier exposure suggests that asbestos may do more than just plant the “seed” for pleural mesothelioma; it may also drive its growth.
“Our finding that tumors become clinically apparent at a younger age in heavily exposed subjects suggests that asbestos is involved not only in malignant mesothelioma tumor initiation but, somehow, also in the progression of the disease,” concludes the report summary.
Early Asbestos Exposure Also Raises Risk
The study emphasizes, once again, the dangerous nature of toxic asbestos.
While this report focuses on people with high levels of exposure, other studies have indicated that even low-level asbestos exposure raises the lifetime risk for mesothelioma. The risk is compounded if the exposure occurs early in life.
Many mesothelioma patients who did not spend their careers in fields typically associated with asbestos exposure (mining, construction, electrical work, plumbing, shipbuilding, etc.) realize too late that their exposure occurred during some type of hands-on summer job in their youth.
This was the case for actors Merlin Olsen and Paul Gleason, as well as for the world’s longest living mesothelioma survivor, Paul Kraus, author of “Surviving Mesothelioma and Other Cancers.” Kraus now spreads the word that mesothelioma survival is possible with radical lifestyle and dietary intervention.
Dragani, TA, et all, “Malignant mesothelioma diagnosed at a younger age is associated with heavier asbestos exposure”, June 30, 2018, Epub ahead of print