One of the biggest challenges in the treatment of mesothelioma is diagnosing the disease when it is in its earliest stages. And yet, as with many cancers, early diagnosis is the key to better mesothelioma outcomes.
A team of international researchers has come up with a mesothelioma diagnostic blood test that they say can help diagnose it earlier than standard tests.
Finding Key Mesothelioma Biomarkers
The key to diagnosing mesothelioma as early as possible is finding “markers” in the blood or lung fluid that are not likely to be there (or are much less common) unless a patient has mesothelioma.
The most commonly used mesothelioma biomarkers are in a group called soluble mesothelin-related proteins. Unfortunately, because tests for SMRPs are not very sensitive, misdiagnosis is a serious risk.
In Search of a New Mesothelioma Blood Test
To get around the limitations of SMRPs, mesothelioma researchers at university centers in Italy and Australia are investigating the value of combining an SMRP test with tests for two additional mesothelioma biomarkers.
They applied the combined test to blood samples from 188 subjects, including 45 malignant mesothelioma patients, 99 people who had been exposed to asbestos but did not have mesothelioma, and 44 healthy people.
“The combination of the three biomarkers was the best predictor to differentiate malignant mesothelioma patients from asbestos-exposed subjects and healthy controls.,” writes lead researcher Lory Santarelli, MD, PhD, a toxicology expert at the Polytechnic University of Marche.
Mesothelioma Biomarkers as Screening Tools
If the value of the new mesothelioma blood test can be confirmed in other studies, it may help in the effort to screen people at risk for the disease.
Exposure to asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma, yet only a fraction of workers exposed to asbestos ever develop the deadly pleural cancer. Public health agencies around the world are searching for simple, inexpensive methods to detect early evidence of mesothelioma, even before symptoms develop.
Because mesothelioma is so aggressive, once symptoms such as chest pain, weight loss, and coughing develop, the prognosis is often poor.
Santarelli, L, et al, “Combined circulating epigenetic markers to improve mesothelin performance in the diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma”, September 25, 2015, Lung Cancer, Epub ahead of print