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New test for asbestos-linked cancer

New tools to diagnose cancer linked to asbestos It's more effective than current tests

Asbestos has long been a silent killer, affecting people many years after exposure. Its deadliness is compounded by lack of effective methods to diagnose one of the cancers associated with asbestos, the tumour mesothelioma.

However, a new technique may now help doctors in diagnosing malignant pleural mesothelioma, a relatively rare cancer, but one whose incidence is growing quickly. The median survival time of those diagnosed with mesothelioma is 12 months.

"Pleural effusion, or the accumulation of fluid in the pleural cavity, can be maddeningly difficult to diagnose as a wide variety of malignant and benign causes exist," said the lead author of the study, Dr Helen Davies, from the Oxford Centre for Respiratory Medicine and Oxford University.

The current test for mesothelioma is not very sensitive, so researchers looked at a protein released in high quantities into the pleural fluid of most patients with the tumour. They found that levels of the protein were almost six times higher in patients with the tumour than in those with secondary lung cancers, and 10 times greater than those with benign conditions.

"An earlier diagnosis also allows speedier interventions to relieve symptoms as well as initiation of other treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy if appropriate," Dr Davies said.

Exposure to asbestos is the main cause of and accounts for the majority of mesothelioma cases. Occupational exposure to asbestos is highly regulated in the UK.

The study appears in the September 1st issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

This article was published on Mon 24 August 2009

Image © Zaichenko Olga - Fotolia.com

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