Doctors do the best they can with the information they have. But they rarely have the information they need to detect mesothelioma early.
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer, and its symptoms point to a whole host of far more common health problems. Coughing and shortness of breath are far more likely to suggest pneumonia or the flu than mesothelioma. That means doctors want additional information. But what information can they find?
Biomarkers can provide valuable information
The medical community provides a variety of definitions for the term “biomarkers.” However, all these definitions center around one idea. Biomarkers are bits of biological information that observers may use to detect the presence of a disease or predict its outcome.
Notably, biomarkers are different from symptoms. Patients experience and report symptoms. Doctors and researchers can find and observe biomarkers.
As one report notes, biomarkers aren’t limited to proteins or sections of DNA. They aren’t even limited to substances. Biomarkers can be physical processes. Or they can exist as structures at any level from subcellular to macroscopic. As the World Health Organization puts it, biomarkers can be anything measurable that might point to an interaction between the body and a potential hazard.
How effective are the biomarkers for mesothelioma?
This leads us back to the problem of mesothelioma. Malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM) is infamously hard to treat. To perform the most effective treatments, doctors need to catch the disease in the early stages. Unfortunately, doctors rarely diagnose MPM in the early stages. According to the research, doctors only diagnose 5% of all MPM cases in Stage 1.
Researchers understand the need for better diagnostic tools. And this leads us back to the idea of biomarkers for MPM. Ideally, good biomarkers could help doctors diagnose MPM before it grows into the later stages. Good biomarkers can also help doctors and patients make better choices for treatment.
There are currently a number of biomarkers linked to MPM, including:
- Soluble mesothelin-related peptide (SMRP)
- Osteopontin (OPN)
- Patterned protein signatures
- Genetic sequences
- Circulating tumor cells (CTC)
This is not an exhaustive list. However, very few biomarkers offer valuable information for MPM. The most effective are SMRP and OPN.
SMRP is the only biomarker that doctors can draw from the blood that has received FDA approval. However, it is approved for monitoring the progress of patients with certain types of MPM. It is not as helpful for diagnosing MPM in the early stages.
Likewise, OPN is most useful as a tool to help doctors plan their treatment. It is a prognostic tool, not a diagnostic one.
The search for better biomarkers continues
Researchers continue to look for new, more effective ways to diagnose mesothelioma. Although the disease is rare, the United States sees roughly 3,000 new cases each year. The prognosis for most of these cases is bad, so there’s still a pressing need to detect and fight the disease earlier.
In the meantime, it’s important for anyone with a history of asbestos exposure to make sure their doctor knows about it. Asbestos exposure causes mesothelioma. When doctors know about your history of asbestos exposure, they’re more likely to look in the right places earlier. And this might help them detect the disease while you can still pursue the most aggressive treatments.