How Asbestos Causes Mesothelioma – Mystery Resolved
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer which affects the protective layers of the internal organs in the body. By 2004, the incidence of this cancer in the United States was 15 individuals per 1,000,000. Though the disease can happen at any age, it is more common in men than in women. It is difficult precisely diagnose this disease as its symptoms are similar to that of adenocarcinoma of the lung.
More than 20 million people in this country are at high risk of developing this malignancy because of their exposure to a mineral fiber, asbestos. Nearly 27.5 million people were exposed to it as an occupational hazard between 1940 and 1979. There was a rise of 300 percent in the incidences of this cancer among Caucasian males between 1973 and 1984.
From 1980 to the late 1990s, it was observed that men were four times more at risk of developing this cancer than women. The yearly death rate also increased from 2,000 per year to 3,000 in this country.
It was known that this fiber is harmful to the body as it kills healthy cells. But its relation with cancer was not understood until now, as dead cells cannot form and promote malignant tumor.
Researchers at the University of Hawaii’s Cancer Research Center along with collaborators from University of Chicago, New York University, University of Pittsburgh, the Imperial College in London and San Raffaele University of Milano have found answer to how asbestos causes this dreadful disease. Results of their findings are published in the issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A. (June 30, 2010).
How Asbestos Causes Mesothelioma?
- The study found that asbestos destroy cells through a mechanism called “programmed cell necrosis”.
- It causes release of a protein molecule named high-mobility group box 1 (HMGB1).
- This protein initiates a certain type of inflammatory reaction in the body.
- This very inflammatory reaction causes the release of substances which promote the growth of tumor.
- The observations were confirmed by the presence of high levels of HMGB1 protein in the serum of patients exposed to asbestos. Serum is the liquid part of blood.
- Researchers believe that normal blood test can now confirm this form of cancer and targeting HMGB1 protein to inhibit inflammation can treat it.
Further research is focussed on confirming the idea of whether simple anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin can treat mesothelioma by inhibiting the inflammation, which is the sole mechanism behind the formation and growth of this cancer’s tumor, as per the research.