From the blog

Genetic Testing Could Help Reduce Mesothelioma Cases and Help the Survival of Those Suffering from the Disease

Published: February 19, 2021

Researchers believe that early genetic testing for genetic mutations can help reduce the cases of mesothelioma and can help increase the survival of those suffering from the disease. Researchers found that new mutations in the BLM gene were making people more susceptible to developing mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos. The researchers believe that testing needs to be widespread because people with higher risks could be identified. The people who have the genetic mutation could then take extra steps to avoid asbestos, the main cause of mesothelioma. The findings of the study were released in December by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Testing is also important for the family members of mesothelioma patients. It can help them see if they are also susceptible to the cancer. The BLM gene findings are similar to the BAP1 gene mutation findings from 10 years ago. Before BLM was found, the BAP1 mutation was the only known way that people were more susceptible to developing mesothelioma. Both genes are tumor suppressor genes. When the genes mutate, there is genomic instability, reductions of essential proteins, and a changed inflammatory response.

The gene mutations that make people more susceptible to mesothelioma can also improve a patient’s long-term survival. The mutation aids the start of cancer cell growth, but then slows the growth of the same cells. Research has found that people with the BAP1 gene mutation had a median survival of five years versus the patient without the mutation having a median overall survival of less than one year. This could be just from the BAP1 mutation, but the drastic change in survival could also be the BAP1 gene group being much younger when diagnosed with mesothelioma. The group’s disease was also not as aggressive and was more receptive to treatment.

Now that the BLM mutation has been found, mesothelioma specialists are meeting on a conference call to try to find the best ways to treat these patients.  All patients are different, so their cancer is going to be different as well. The treatment that is found will need to be tailored specifically to the subtype of cancer the person has.

Genetic testing of people never diagnosed with mesothelioma is part of a wider study funded by the Institute of health. The study is trying to find who is at a higher risk of developing cancers, including mesothelioma. People in the study who find out they have the mutation could use the information and move away from certain areas where natural asbestos is found in higher concentrations. Genetic testing could also help prevent cancer in people who renovate homes who are more likely to work with old building materials that contain asbestos.

The National Cancer Institute is conducting a similar study to see if family members of mesothelioma patients are predisposed to the cancer based on genetic mutation, and are trying to find ways to stop it. Genetic testing is recommended in high risk populations to let them make certain lifestyle changes to avoid asbestos, allowing them to decrease their chances of developing mesothelioma.

Angela Bonino et al., “Heterozygous germline BLM mutations increase susceptibility to asbestos and mesothelioma” PNAS (December 29, 2020). [Link]
Megan Avakian, “Genetic mutation increases mesothelioma risk” National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (December 29, 2020). [Link]
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