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Monitoring Mesothelin Levels in Those Exposed to Asbestos Could Lead to Earlier Diagnosis of Mesothelioma

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.