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Malignant mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer that often kills if not detected early. Mesothelioma patients experienced long-term asbestos exposure, often through building materials such as vinyl tiles or insulation. Many people diagnosed with mesothelioma once worked jobs where they breathed or swallowed asbestos fibers day after day. Mesothelioma typically remains dormant for years after asbestos exposure. Therefore, many of its victims have already retired from the jobs that exposed them and caused their cancer.
Can Genes Cause Mesothelioma?
Although genes do not directly cause malignant mesothelioma, genetic factors influence cancer development after carcinogen exposure. Some people seem more likely to develop mesothelioma after exposure to asbestos or erionite fibers than others. Their genes may be the reason.
Are Some People Genetically Predisposed to Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is not caused by any specific gene. However, recent research into populations of people where mesothelioma is prevalent suggest dome individuals may be genetically prone to mesothelioma and other cancers. These groups of populations my be geographic groups or groups of relatives.
What other Genetic Factors Influence the Development of Mesothelioma?
Recent research seeks to better understand genetic factors that may influence the development of mesothelioma cancer. Since only a fraction of people who experience long-term asbestos exposure develop mesothelioma, researchers suggest a person’s genetics may be involved in the process. In people with mesothelioma, certain tumor-suppressing genes appear to be mutated when compared to those who have been exposed but did not develop the disease.
Tumor Suppressor Genes: an in-depth Look
Tumor suppressor genes are bits of DNA that suppress the growth and spread of malignant tumors, including mesothelioma. Recent studies of these genes and their expression in mesothelioma patients suggest some people with mesothelioma risk factors do not develop the cancer. However, others in the same occupational or environmental conditions do because of mutations in tumor suppressor genes. Let’s explore these tumor suppressing genes a little more closely.
BRCA-associated protein 1 (BAP1) is a tumor suppressor gene that is mutated in many malignant mesothelioma patients. A Japanese study of patients with mesothelioma found the BAP1 gene is often inactivated, leading to improper modification of histones in the body. This improper modification may facilitate the growth and spread of mesothelioma and other cancers. BAP1 is thought to be partially responsible for the prevalence of mesothelioma in certain families.
Another tumor suppressor linked to mesothelioma development is neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2). This gene, when functioning properly, regulates proliferation of cancer cells. However, when mutated, NF2 allows malignant tumors to grow and spread unchecked. More than a third of patients with malignant mesothelioma show a mutation in the NF2 gene.
Large tumor suppressor homolog 2 (LATS2) is another gene often mutated in mesothelioma patients. This particular gene inhibits cancer cell growth. LATS2 is often altered or even deleted in those with malignant mesothelioma. This gene is also associated with the Hippo pathway, by which a fetus’ internal organs are generated. This same pathway may malfunction to create tumor cells in mesothelioma patients.
Implications for the Future
If genetic mutations that allow mesothelioma to spread and grow can be controlled by genetic manipulation, this could lead to new, more effective treatments with fewer side effects. More research into tumor suppressor genes is necessary. However, the hope of using genes to directly target mesothelioma may be just over the horizon.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.