Elevated blood levels of a protein are linked to asbestos-induced cancers

October 12, 2005

Researchers at New York University School of Medicine and Wayne State University have found a molecule that reveals the early stages of pleural mesothelioma, a chest cancer caused by asbestos. The finding opens the way to a blood test for the disease, according to a new study published in the Oct. 13 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

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. Other hotspots include Libby, Montana, regions in Quebec, Canada, in France and in Turkey.

Blood levels of a protein called osteopontin

In the new study, Dr. Pass and colleagues found that blood levels of osteopontin were significantly higher in patients who had pleural mesothelioma compared to individuals who were exposed to asbestos and are at risk for developing the cancer.

The study involved 190 patients. Sixty-nine had asbestos-related nonmalignant disease, such as inflammation which leads to scarring in the lung and plaques on the lining surrounding the lungs; 45 were current or former smokers, who had no previous exposure to asbestos; and 76 patients suffered from pleural mesothelioma and were undergoing surgery.

Those individuals exposed to asbestos for less than 10 years showed the lowest levels of osteopontin. Those levels doubled in people with more than 10 years of exposure. The osteopontin levels rose as changes on their lungs, such as scarring, which were revealed on X rays, became more pronounced. In the patients with documented pleural mesothelioma, blood levels of osteopontin jumped--rising six-fold, even in the earliest stage (stage I) of the disease.

Further research needs to be done to determine the exact levels of the blood that would be used in screening tests for pleural mesothelioma, he says, and validation tests are in the planning stages. "What is crucial," Dr. Pass says, "is that the marker is very encouraging specifically in asbestos-related early-stage disease."

About pleural mesothelioma and the biomarker

The outlook for pleural mesothelioma patients who are diagnosed late is often grim: they may live only 9 to 12 months. Sadly, fewer than 5 percent of mesothelioma cases are detected early. "There are therapies that will help patients live longer--I would really like to see more patients found early," says Dr. Pass, who also runs outreach programs to find people at risk. "Early detection may find patients before they suffer the ravages of the disease including shortness of breath and pain. At this point in time, surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and new targeted therapies may help extend patients' lives."

Dr. Pass has been exploring surgical approaches in combination with novel therapies for pleural mesothelioma since 1989, and has also sought to use molecular biology tools to find an early detection method, as well as to guide appropriate therapy, for the disease. The discovery of osteopontin in mesothelioma resulted from the analysis of thousands of genes using gene expression arrays.

This study was a collaboration between scientists and clinicians at Wayne State University, the John A. Dingell Veterans Hospital in Detroit, the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola University, in Maywood, Illinois and the Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The research was supported in part by a Department of Veterans Affairs Merit Review Award and by patients' donations.

Dr. Pass recently joined NYU School of Medicine. His previous positions include Chief, Thoracic Oncology at the Karmanos Cancer Institute, Detroit, which is affiliated with Wayne State University, and Senior Investigator and Head of the Thoracic Oncology Section of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.
-end-


NYU Langone Medical Center / New York University School of Medicine

Related Cancer Articles from Brightsurf:

New blood cancer treatment works by selectively interfering with cancer cell signalling
University of Alberta scientists have identified the mechanism of action behind a new type of precision cancer drug for blood cancers that is set for human trials, according to research published in Nature Communications.

UCI researchers uncover cancer cell vulnerabilities; may lead to better cancer therapies
A new University of California, Irvine-led study reveals a protein responsible for genetic changes resulting in a variety of cancers, may also be the key to more effective, targeted cancer therapy.

Breast cancer treatment costs highest among young women with metastic cancer
In a fight for their lives, young women, age 18-44, spend double the amount of older women to survive metastatic breast cancer, according to a large statewide study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Cancer mortality continues steady decline, driven by progress against lung cancer
The cancer death rate declined by 29% from 1991 to 2017, including a 2.2% drop from 2016 to 2017, the largest single-year drop in cancer mortality ever reported.

Stress in cervical cancer patients associated with higher risk of cancer-specific mortality
Psychological stress was associated with a higher risk of cancer-specific mortality in women diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Cancer-sniffing dogs 97% accurate in identifying lung cancer, according to study in JAOA
The next step will be to further fractionate the samples based on chemical and physical properties, presenting them back to the dogs until the specific biomarkers for each cancer are identified.

Moffitt Cancer Center researchers identify one way T cell function may fail in cancer
Moffitt Cancer Center researchers have discovered a mechanism by which one type of immune cell, CD8+ T cells, can become dysfunctional, impeding its ability to seek and kill cancer cells.

More cancer survivors, fewer cancer specialists point to challenge in meeting care needs
An aging population, a growing number of cancer survivors, and a projected shortage of cancer care providers will result in a challenge in delivering the care for cancer survivors in the United States if systemic changes are not made.

New cancer vaccine platform a potential tool for efficacious targeted cancer therapy
Researchers at the University of Helsinki have discovered a solution in the form of a cancer vaccine platform for improving the efficacy of oncolytic viruses used in cancer treatment.

American Cancer Society outlines blueprint for cancer control in the 21st century
The American Cancer Society is outlining its vision for cancer control in the decades ahead in a series of articles that forms the basis of a national cancer control plan.

Read More: Cancer News and Cancer Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.