Blood Test May Spot Asbestos-Linked Cancer
Test May Help Screen High-Risk People, Researchers Say
Oct. 12, 2005 -- A blood test could help screen for pleural mesothelioma, an
asbestos-related cancer, a new study shows.
The test checks blood levels of a protein called osteopontin.
Blood osteopontin levels "rise dramatically" in the early stages of
pleural mesothelioma, says researcher Harvey Pass, MD, in a news release.
"A rise in the level of this biomarker in workers with past asbestos
exposure may indicate to physicians that these people need to be followed even
more closely for the development of cancer," he says.
Pass is the chief of the division of thoracic surgery and thoracic oncology
in the cardiothoracic surgery department at New York University's medical
school. He is also a professor of surgery there.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber. Its uses have included
insulation, fire protection, and construction materials.
Asbestos is not always an immediate hazard, according to the Environmental
"In fact, if asbestos can be maintained in good condition, it is
recommended that it be left alone and periodic surveillance performed to
monitor its condition," states the EPA's web site.
"It is only when asbestos-containing materials are disturbed or the
materials become damaged that it becomes a hazard. When the materials become
damaged, the fibers separate and then may become airborne," the web site
Pleural mesothelioma is a rare disease of the lining of the lung and chest
cavity that is usually cancerous. Its only known cause is asbestos exposure,
says the EPA, noting that it can take 15-30 years for the disease to
Pleural mesothelioma has been hard to detect in its early, more treatable
stages. As a result, many patients die within months of diagnosis, write Pass
There are 2,500 to 3,000 new mesothelioma cases in the U.S. per year. Over
the years, millions of workers have been exposed to asbestos, mainly in
industrial, construction, and maintenance jobs, note the researchers.
They cite estimates that as many as 7.5 million American construction
workers have used construction materials containing asbestos. Asbestos is
"still a hazard" for an estimated 1.3 million U.S. workers in
construction and building/equipment maintenance, the researchers add.
Not all people with asbestos exposure get cancer; however, exposure to
asbestos and other substances such as coal, fuels, and arsenic can increase
your risk of lung cancer. Smoking further increases the risk for cancer in
those with asbestos exposure.
"Researchers still have not determined a 'safe level' of exposure, but
we know the greater and longer the exposure, the greater the risk of
contracting an asbestos-related disease," says the EPA.