Some readers may be aware that mesothelioma is a disease caused by asbestos exposure and is an aggressive cancer affecting the outer lining of the lungs.
Currently, mesothelioma is diagnosed when a lung biopsy finds enough amount of tumor tissue. This process can sometimes leave doctors a bit uncertain about the patient’s diagnosis, which can at times result in delays in beginning treatment.
Good News for Mesothelioma Sufferers
However, there is some recent good news for patients suffering from mesothelioma. During the recent 3rd European Lung Cancer Conference held in Geneva some interesting findings were announced. Important breakthroughs have recently been made in improving the diagnosis and treatment of malignant pleural mesothelioma.
Quicker Diagnosis by analyzing MicroRNAs
Australian researchers have stated that they have identified a small molecule which is found to be more abundant in the blood of mesothelioma sufferers as compared to healthy people. This is amazing news because if this is true it can help doctors diagnose mesothelioma much earlier than is possible today.
In the study, Dr. Michaela Kirschner and colleaagues from the Asbestos Diseases Research (Concord Hospital Campus) in Sydney studied molecules in blood known as microRNAs. 17 microRNAs were identified that had significant differential abundance between people with the disease and those without it.
As per their lab results, the level of a microRNA called miR-625-3p was four times higher in the blood of patients with mesothelioma. This difference in levels of miR-625-3p in blood samples enabled the team of researchers to differentiate malignant pleural mesothelioma patients from healthy people with 82.4% accuracy.
However, good news always seems to come with a caveat. Over the years many proteins have been thought to play the role of a blood marker for mesothelioma but none have attained accuracy levels for routine clinical use.
As per Dr Kirschner, “Detailed analyses of our two independent sample series have shown that miR-625-3p performs as well as any previously proposed protein marker for detecting mesothelioma. However, like most diagnostic markers, miR-625-3p is not 100% accurate, and therefore there is a chance the assay will produce both false positives as well as false negatives. Further studies on larger sample sizes are needed to see whether the accuracy of miR-625-3p can be confirmed or even turn out to be better than currently observed.”
He further added that, “Should further studies prove that microRNAs in plasma are accurate enough for the diagnosis of malignant pleural mesothelioma, this will lead to the development of a diagnostic test for routine clinical use. This test would then represent a relatively simple way to circumvent the problems associated with obtaining a tissue biopsy. For a patient this would mean that appropriate treatment could be instituted at an earlier stage.”
Other Blood markers also identified
Apart from the Australian team of Dr. Kirschner Swiss, Italian and US researchers have also said that they have found another potential group of useful blood markers that can be used for early diagnosis of mesothelioma.
According to Dr. Ferdinando Cerciello of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and the University Hospital, Zurich, who studied 56 candidate biomarker peptides, the study performed by him and his team “revealed potential candidate biomarkers in serum, accessible simultaneously by mass spectrometry.”
High-dose radiotherapy gives good response rates
There is also good news for mesothelioma in terms of treatment of the disease.
Although it was generally believed that mesothelioma does not respond to radiotherapy, researchers in Australia have found that if the disease is mainly confined to one side of the chest, radiotherapy may give the best response rates compared to any other single treatment for patients with the disease.
In a statement, Dr. Malcolm Feigen and colleagues at Austin Health Radiation said, “Our experience provides clear evidence that radiation is arguably the most effective single agent for mesothelioma and new technologies including intensity-modulated radiotherapy allow high doses to be delivered safely.”
As I am well aware of the dangers posed by this deadly disease, I hope these new findings take us in the right direction towards early diagnosis and effective treatment.