An estimated 7.5 million workers in the United States have been exposed to asbestos and, according to government statistics, it remains a hazard to some 1.3 million workers in construction and building maintenance.
There has been no way to reliably screen for this type of cancer, particularly in its early stages when treatment may be more successful. The blood test could help to monitor people at risk of developing cancer due to asbestos exposure, says Harvey Pass, M.D., Chief of the Division of Thoracic Surgery and Thoracic Oncology in the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery and Professor of Surgery at NYU School of Medicine, and the lead author of the study.
"The levels of a protein called osteopontin rise dramatically in the early stage of this disease," says Dr. Pass. So, he says, "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."
Pleural mesothelioma, a cancer that invades the lining of the chest cavity and the lining of the lungs, usually develops in people who have been exposed to asbestos, such as foundry workers, pipe fitters, shipbuilders, miners, electricians, factory workers, firefighters, as well as construction workers who have used asbestos-containing materials. It often takes decades to develop.
"There are hotspots across the world where this type of cancer is clustered," says Dr. Pass. Such clusters are in the Wittenoom district of Perth, in Western Australia, which has one of the highest incidences of mesothelioma, he says
Contact: Pamela McDonnell
New York University Medical Center and School of Medicine