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New Test for Mesothelioma

Currently, over 90% of pleural mesothelioma victims exhibit signs of pleural effusion – the buildup of fluid around the lungs. In an effort to diagnose the cause of this fluid, a sample is taken and examined for cancer cells. This technique – pleural fluid cytology – is not always accurate in diagnosing mesothelioma, with up to a third of mesothelioma patients receiving inconclusive or suspicious results.

A joint team from the University of Oxford and the Oxford Centre for Respiratory Medicine at the John Radcliffe Hospital has shown that a new test can significantly improve diagnosis of the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma. The test was found to be particularly useful where cytology gave an inconclusive result. Mesothelioma cells produce the protein mesothelin, which is measured by this new test. Mesothelin measurement has proven superior to ordinary cytological examination in the diagnosis of mesothelioma.

Researchers obtained pleural fluid samples from 209 patients. Levels of soluble mesothelin were measured in all samples. Median pleural fluid mesothelin levels were over six times greater in patients with mesothelioma than in patients with metastatic carcinomas, and ten times greater than in patients with benign effusions. There were 12 false positive results with metastatic adenocarcinomas accounting for over 90 percent of these cases. However, all patients with pleural fluid cytology suspicious for mesothelioma and an elevated mesothelin level in fact were diagnosed with mesothelioma.

This new test may achieve earlier diagnosis and earlier treatment of mesothelioma. However, prevention of this deadly disease through the banning of asbestos on an international level should remain our priority.

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