Biomarker discovery could guide mesothelioma treatment

Asbestos was one of the most widely used construction materials of the 20th century. Valued for its flame resistance, low electrical conductivity and affordability, asbestos was used liberally to build ships, structures and a variety of consumer products.

Unfortunately, at the height of its use in industry, the destructive power of asbestos was not fully understood. Exposure to the fibrous crystals asbestos-laced materials release into the air can result in serious illness, which often goes unrecognized for years after the initial contact, but can cause rapidly deteriorating health after its onset. One of the worst illnesses caused by asbestos exposure is mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that affects the membrane that surrounds and protects many of the body's internal organs. There are several different types of mesothelioma, but the most common is pleural mesothelioma, which causes aggressive and abnormal cell growth in the pleura, the membrane that contains the lungs.

Typically, mesothelioma patients go a very long time between asbestos exposure and the first onset of symptoms. This latency period may range from 10 to 50 years. But, once the disease begins to take its toll, the decline in a patient's health is precipitous: according to advocacy group The Mesothelioma Center, after a mesothelioma diagnosis, the average life expectancy is just 8-18 months.

With such a short life expectancy after diagnosis for many mesothelioma patients, it does not make sense to endure extensive surgery that may result in a diminished quality of life without extending it. On the other hand, some mesothelioma patients benefit substantially from surgery, living for years after a successful surgical intervention. But how can doctors tell which patients will be helped by surgery, and which will be harmed?

Previously, there had been no reliable way to make this distinction. However, a new study shows great promise for improving the lives of mesothelioma patients by delineating which of them would most likely benefit from surgery.

The study, published in the medical periodical the British Journal of Cancer, identified the levels of fibrinogen, a clotting agent in blood plasma, at the time of diagnosis for 175 mesothelioma patients spread across three different countries. Increased levels of fibrinogen were associated not only with the onset of mesothelioma - 87.5 percent of patients had levels higher than those present in the general population - but also with a lower rate of surgical efficacy.

For the study's participants ranked in the highest quartile for fibrinogen level, the average survival rate after surgery was just 5.3 months. But, among those surgical patients whose fibrinogen levels fell in the lower 75 percent, the average survival rate was a far hardier 31.3 months. These findings suggest that by identifying mesothelioma patients with the highest fibrinogen levels, doctors could delineate who would benefit most from surgery and for whom a more passive treatment option would be a better approach.

The new study reinforces previous research, and provides hope for better outcomes for mesothelioma sufferers and their families. Yet, mesothelioma remains a dangerous condition, and even beyond its considerable health consequences, there are significant monetary costs associated with the illness.

To help pay for treatment costs and lost support from a loved one who can no longer provide for family members, a mesothelioma lawsuit may be a possibility. To determine if you may be eligible for compensation from a company that used asbestos or from an asbestos trust fund, get in touch with a mesothelioma lawyer today.