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Mesothelioma carries a slight genetic risk

While certainly mesothelioma is acquired due to environmental exposures, research over the last few years indicates that people who have a certain gene mutation have an inherited susceptibility to the deadly disease, as well as to another, separate, cancer -- uveal melanoma.

The gene mutation is referred to as BAP1. When carriers get exposed to asbestos in their workplaces, the risk of being diagnosed with mesothelioma is greatly enhanced.

The results of this research were initially published more than five years ago in Nature Genetics. Funding was provided by the National Cancer Institute and the research conducted in both Philadelphia and Honolulu. Two families with higher than average incidences of mesothelioma among the members were studied.

The malignant tumors that come with mesothelioma are tied to exposure to asbestos and erionite, a mineral fiber similar that's found in volcanic ash and certain rock formations located in no fewer than 12 states.

Yet only a slight percentage of those who get exposed to these substances go on to develop mesothelioma, considered to be one of the most lethal types of cancer. Annually in the U.S., approximately 3,000 people die from the condition, with 50 percent of those who were diagnosed dying within a year of their diagnoses.

One of the study leaders who also serves as the University of Hawaii Cancer Center's director, announced that the discovery was "a first step in understanding the role of the BAP1 gene and its potential utility when screening for mutations in those at high risk."

This is the same gene mutation that has previously been linked to renal, pancreatic, breast and ovarian cancers. Yet only an approximate 10 percent of those women who were identified with inherited risks of ovarian and breast cancer diagnoses carry gene mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2.

While these findings may not have much bearing on those with current mesothelioma diagnoses, they can help workers with enhanced risk avoid future contact with asbestos and lead to early screenings for the disease.

Those already diagnosed may choose to pursue legal action against past employers who were responsible for their exposures in the workplace.

Source: Science Daily, "Genetic link to mesothelioma discovered," National Institute of Health, National Cancer Institute, accessed Oct. 21, 2016

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