As of yet, there is sadly no cure for this cancer, which usually kills within a year of diagnosis.
However, scientists appear to be pressing on in studying this deadly disease from every angle. That has resulted in the most recent findings, which indicate that there may be a genetic mutation that could contribute to a person’s susceptibility to mesothelioma, a cancer that kills roughly 3,000 people each year.
Now, a few things that are important to put into context. The first is that exposure to asbestos is the primary cause of mesothelioma, which is otherwise a rare cancer that attacks the lining of vital organs. The asbestos exposure often occurs many years prior to an actual diagnosis, so the disease often remains latent for decades.
Secondly, it’s important to note that even if it’s true that a gene could increase a person’s susceptibility to sickness, it does not release some of these companies who perpetuated the asbestos exposure from liability.
That said, what the National Institutes of Health have discovered is that even though a large number of people have been exposed to asbestos (mainly before the 1970s) not everyone who was exposed gets sick. It is believed that about 11 million people were exposed to asbestos in the U.S. in the years between 1940 and 1978.
With symptoms remaining latent for 25 to 50 years, mesothelioma cases are expected to peak around 2020.
What researchers found in focusing on families that had high rates of mesothelioma or other cancers also had an eye mutation. That mutation was inside a gene called BAP1. A number of other patients who had no family history of cancer also had this same eye mutation.
Those with this mutation were also more likely than those without it to develop other types of cancers, including ovarian, breast, pancreatic or renal. This is the gene that acts to suppress the activity of tumors. So it would make sense that if someone has a mutation of this gene, they would be at higher risk to develop cancer.
Of course, like all mutations, some are genetic, but then some are apparently random. Exposure to certain carcinogens (like asbestos) can either create a mutation or increase a person’s risk that the mutation will multiply, or in other words, turn cancerous.
So to break that down, just because a person has the mutation doesn’t mean they will necessarily develop cancer. And just because a person doesn’t have the mutation doesn’t mean they are completely immune to a mutation.
The idea with this study is that if people are aware that they have this genetic mutation, they should take extra caution to avoid exposure to known carcinogens, namely asbestos, cigarettes and UV light.
If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with mesothelioma in Boston, call for a free and confidential appointment at (617) 777-7777.