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German Research Points to Use of Exam for Earlier Diagnosis of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a fatal form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. With up to fifty years between exposure and development of mesothelioma symptoms, finding a better way to diagnose the deadly disease sooner is key to improving treatment options, quality of life, and possibly longevity for sufferers.

A new study conducted by a team of
German scientists found that by
examining samples of lung tissue for asbestos fibers that it might be possible to determine whether or not the patient will likely develop
mesothelioma (or other cancers
caused by asbestos) and possibly
when.

Mesothelioma is diagnosed in roughly 3,000 new patients a year in the United States. Worldwide the cancer kills an estimated 20 to 30 thousand people yearly. The disease is, so far, incurable and only the few patients diagnosed in the earliest stages of the disease respond well to various treatments.

Diagnosing mesothelioma before it progresses is essential yet challenging. Only 10 to 15 percent of mesothelioma patients are in stage 1 or stage 2 of the disease, meaning that most diagnoses come only after the disease has passed into stage 3.

Published in Recent Results in Cancer Research, the German team examined samples from several patients already diagnosed with the disease and found that “lung dust analyses are a relevant method for the determination of causation in mesothelioma.” Asbestos fibers can be viewed in the lung tissue
samples under examination with light and electron microscopes.

Comparing the overall amount and
type of asbestos fibers in the lung
tissue could very well predict whether or not a patient will develop cancer, how long it may take for symptoms to arise, and could possibly be used to determine which type of treatment
would best suit the patients.

Interestingly, the research also found that the median time between asbestos exposure and development of mesothelioma or other cancers had risen in Germany to 42.5 years. In addition, at least within the German population, people are being diagnosed later in life, making treatment all the more difficult.

While the study produced no definitive link between asbestos fiber counts and diagnosis of mesothelioma, it has
opened up a new realm of research in the fight against this deadly disease, helping scientists understand how the disease is caused and how it progresses.

Perhaps one day this discover could lead to a test that detects mesothelioma before
symptoms arise which could be
administered after suspected asbestos exposure.

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