Mesothelioma is a difficult disease to treat, in part because it is aggressive and grows in the form of multiple small tumors. It spreads quickly and because of the way the tumors grow, it is difficult to eliminate all cancerous cells. Researchers are working toward developing better treatments, but some are also tackling the problem from the diagnostic end. If oncologists can diagnose mesothelioma earlier, treatments will be more effective and patients will have a chance to live longer.
Collaboration Brings Study to Mesothelioma Patients
The latest research that may help diagnose mesothelioma earlier involves identifying markers in exhaled breath. The studies are a result of a partnership between the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers (IAHFAIW) and a British company Owlstone Medical.
The IAHFAIW is interested in this kind of research because its members are vulnerable to asbestos exposure, the leading cause of mesothelioma. Owlstone is a company that researches and develops diagnostic tests, including several breathalyzers used as a type of biopsy for cancer.
The Breathalyzer Studies
The purpose of the study is to determine if breathalyzer diagnostics can find markers of mesothelioma and accurately diagnose patients earlier than current, more invasive strategies like surgical biopsy. The first phase of the study will use the breathalyzer to analyze compounds in the breath of patients already known to have been exposed to asbestos and to have mesothelioma.
The researchers are looking for volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that clearly indicate the presence of this specific type of cancer. The hope is that there will be VOCs that are distinct in patients known to have mesothelioma which could then be used to diagnose or rule out the cancer in other patients.
In the second part of the study researchers will verify how sensitive and specific the test is at identifying the VOCs. They will also look at how accurately the test can give a negative or positive result for mesothelioma.
The Importance of Early Diagnosis
Mesothelioma is not just an aggressive cancer that is difficult to treat, it is also a cancer type that is challenging to diagnose. The latency period between exposure to asbestos and diagnosis is often decades, up to 50 years. By the time most people get an accurate diagnosis of this cancer, it is in a later stage and treatment options are limited. Life expectancy is limited.
A non-invasive, accurate diagnostic took like a breathalyzer could give people many more years to live. It may have the potential to screen any workers who are at risk for asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma is rare, and not everyone exposed will develop it. But if an easy test could quickly sort between those who have the cancer and those do not, it could save lives.
Currently the prognosis for patients with mesothelioma is a survival time of one year or less. An early diagnosis could give these patients many more years to live. This is the hope of the new collaboration and set of studies.