Cancer Researchers have long been searching for indicators that could hold
the key to diagnosing mesothelioma at an early stage. Mesothelioma has
a long latency period with initial asbestos exposures which occurred 20
to sometimes 50 years before the cancer develops. Typically, diagnoses
occurs when the disease is late stage and therefore patients are presented
with a poor prognosis.
In 2007, researchers out of Tokyo began a long term and large scale screening
of construction workers and plumbers with a risk of asbestos exposure
to determine whether the protein mesothelin (N-ERC/MSLN) could be used
as an early detection method. N-ERC/MSLN is a protein present on normal
mesothelial cells which line the internal organs and are present throughout
the entire body, in mesothelioma and in some other forms of cancer, N-ERC/MSLN
is over expressed.
The researchers screened 40,000 potential participants through a construction
workers union and a national health insurance association who had a high
risk of exposure to asbestos as a result of their occupations in construction
and plumbing. Of the 40,000 participants, 62 were identified as being
high risk for the development of mesothelioma due to elevated levels of
N-ERC/MSLN in their blood.
The participants underwent annual blood tests to monitor N-ERC/MSLN levels.
Out of the 62 participants, two have subsequently developed mesothelioma.
The remaining participants will continue to be monitored with yearly blood tests.
Early detection can lead to earlier
diagnosis of mesothelioma which could allow for earlier treatment. This in turn
offers the potential for prolonged survival and better quality of life
due to less invasive disease management.