Asbestos exposure is the main reason people get malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM). However, many more people suffer asbestos exposure than get MPM. This raises the question: How much does genetics play a role?
This is a question that has come back into discussion thanks to a recent discovery. The important thing that research has found is that, while genes may make a person more likely than another to develop mesothelioma, the only scientifically accepted cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos.
What scientists know about the influence of genes on mesothelioma
Genetics often play a role in cancers, yet the role genes play in mesothelioma has long remained unclear. The authors of a study published in the Journal of Thoracic Disease note this owes largely to the limited data. Mesothelioma is a rare cancer, so researchers don’t have the same body of evidence as they do for other, more common cancers.
Nonetheless, researchers have determined that genes play a limited role in making victims more susceptible. Certain genetic factors appear to increase the dangers for those exposed to asbestos. These include:
- Germline mutations to BAP1. BAP1 directs the production of a protein that aids in cell life cycles. It helps with cell division and DNA repair. Mutated BAP1 genes are less effective at suppressing tumors. Germline mutations are changes to the DNA in the egg or sperm that affect the entire offspring. These are different from somatic mutations, which occur later in life and are far more common.
- Inherited mutations of the BLM gene. If a child receives mutated BLM genes from both parents, that child will have Bloom Syndrome. But the team at the University of Hawaii discovered that a mutation in just one set of genes appears to increase the risk of mesothelioma. Again, this means a greater risk for those already exposed to asbestos. The mutated gene does not create a risk for mesothelioma on its own.
- A series of other genes also suggest a slightly greater risk for MPM. These include ten genes, all linked to DNA repair. As researchers noted, this suggests that damage to these genes may prevent them from repairing the damage asbestos causes the DNA. Even so, researchers found these genetic markers in only 10% of all MPM cases.
The result is that scientists know certain genes can increase your risk. They can use that knowledge to pursue the pathways that allow for tumor growth and try to find solutions. Theoretically, they can also screen people with histories of asbestos exposure to see if their genes put them at greater risk.
Researchers keep moving forward, one step at a time
Researchers keep advancing our understanding of mesothelioma one step at a time. Everyone would like to see the progress move more swiftly, but the cancer’s rarity slows the research. It takes longer for scientists to gather the data they need.
Even so, the past few years have seen remarkable new strides in mesothelioma treatment. Scientists are also looking for better ways to detect the disease early. And all this means mesothelioma victims may soon live longer and enjoy a better quality of life.