From the blog

Decade Long Study Reveals Potential for Early Detection in Mesothelioma

Published: November 8, 2018

For many patients who are suffering from malignant mesothelioma, their diagnosis came quickly after experiencing symptoms. In many cases, this is because symptoms of mesothelioma typically do not appear until the cancer has fully developed and it’s in the later stages. For those suffering from pleural mesothelioma – the most common type – 90 percent experience shortness of breath and chest pain as one of the first symptoms and 84 percent experience pleural effusions (fluid build-up between the linings of the lungs and chest). Weight loss, cough, fever, and loss of appetite also make up other symptoms, but since those symptoms are common of other ailments, it doesn’t often cause people to seek medical attention immediately. Successfully treating mesothelioma is difficult because of how far advanced the cancer typically is when it is first detected. Aggressive treatments have to begin immediately, but more often than not, it is already too late. The average life-expectancy for mesothelioma from the time of diagnosis is under one year, as health quickly deteriorates.

Scientists and researchers know that early detection is the key in effectively fighting mesothelioma. However, because the disease often takes decades to develop, it has been difficult to detect without the patient first experiencing symptoms. Researchers from the Institute for Prevention and Occupations Medicine in Germany recently published findings in Scientific Reports that early detection of mesothelioma could be in the near future with a simple blood test that examines two blood-based proteins, mesothelin and calretinin, that are often overexpressed in mesothelioma tumors.

Mesothelin is a protein found on in mesothelial cells. Scientists and researchers have theorized that mesothelin contributes to cell adhesion, but the overall the biological function of the protein is a bit of a mystery. Since mesothelin is found in the lining of lungs, heart, and abdomen, an over expression of the protein is linked to mesothelioma. Calretinin is a protein found throughout the body and is responsible for calcium signaling. It is also known to be found in mesothelioma cell lines.

This most recent study was 10 years in the making, as researchers kept a close eye on 2,769 patients who had asbestos-related diseases that at the time were non-threatening. This program was through the German Social Accident Insurance for Asbestos Workers and Ruhr University Bochum. Beginning in 2008, these participants submitted blood samples annually to the program. Blood was then tested to determine the mesothelin and calretinin levels. At the end of the study in 2018, 34 of the 2,769 participants had developed malignant mesothelioma. Within those 34, mesothelin and calretinin levels were rated at 46 percent, which means the blood test was able to detect mesothelioma in nearly half of those diagnosed, and could have been done so up to 15 months before the official diagnosis.

Relying on symptoms alone as the first signs of mesothelioma is often not enough if it is to be treated successfully. Results from this blood test have scientists and researchers hopeful that for those with known asbestos exposure, even if he or she is not experiencing symptoms, may have a better way of detecting the cancer before it is in full form.



Georg Johnen et. al. “Prediagnostic detection of mesothelioma by circulating calretinin and mesothelin – a case-control comparison nested into a prospective cohort of asbestos-exposed workers,” Scientific Reports (September 25, 2018). [Link]

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