Scientists have found that a genetic mutation may cause higher susceptibility to developing mesothelioma.
The study focuses on a gene known as BAP1 and looked at individuals who possessed the mutated gene. It analyzed two American families who demonstrated high incidences of mesothelioma and other cancers associated with cases of the genetic mutation.
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that affects the linings of the lungs and other organs. Exposure to asbestos has long been linked to the development of this aggressive cancer that has no known cure. The life expectancy of someone diagnosed with mesothelioma is four to 18 months.
The study, which was published in the August 2011 issue of Nature Genetics, may provide insight into why some individuals who are exposed to asbestos develop mesothelioma while others don’t.
These scientists included researchers from the University of Hawaii Cancer Center and Fox Chase Cancer Center, with funding from the National Cancer Institute.
The implications of this study may be tremendous because many people carry a mutated BAP1 gene.
Approximately 2,500 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year in the U.S.
“This discovery is a first step in understanding the role of the BAP1 gene and its potential utility when screening for mutations in those at high risk,” said Dr. Michele Carbone, from the University of Hawaii.
The study provided more insight into potential links between this genetic mutation and other health concerns. According to the scientists, this mutation may also lead to higher incidences of other cancers such as breast, ovarian, pancreatic and renal cancers.
“Identifying people at greatest risk for developing mesothelioma, especially those exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos and erionite worldwide, is a task made easier by virtue of this discovery,” said Carbone.
Both asbestos and erionite, known carcinogens, are mineral fibers that are found in various rock forms all over the world. Exposure to these minerals typically occurs through occupational settings, where individuals constantly work around asbestos, or in environmental settings, where individuals are regularly exposed to it through homes, buildings, products and roadways.
Research of this magnitude may one day allow people with this mutation to utilize preventative measures or receive an early diagnosis for all of the related cancers, which provides better opportunities for the patient.