Honolulu, Hawaii - Skin spots that occur in certain individuals who have been exposed to asbestos are an outward and visible sign that could save lives that might otherwise be lost to mesothelioma, say researchers at the University of Hawaii.
According to a press release by the university, a recent study revealed that skin spots which resemble moles often occur in people that have a BAP1 gene mutation. Normal BAP1 genes work to suppress tumors and suppress cancer. However, those who have this particular gene mutation lack the ability to restrain cancer, the authors of the study note. Hence, an appearance of these spots in an individual who suffered asbestos exposure in the past – even decades ago – might indicate susceptibility to the disease, which is often not diagnosed until symptoms appear in the later stages.
The researchers looked at 118 individuals – 63 of them had the BAP1 gene mutation and the remaining 55 did not. “Over the course of the study, the researchers found that the individuals with the mutated genes had a much higher probability of developing the skin spots and contracting mesothelioma than those without the gene mutation,” the study reported. “As a result, the researchers concluded that the skin spots could be the ‘first clinical manifestation of the BAP1 cancer syndrome.’”
"Identifying this gene as a cause of several cancers can tell us who is at risk in a family before the cancer develops," said the study’s lead author.
The diagnosis of mesothelioma in its early stages could potentially save thousands of lives each year. Currently, symptoms such as breathing difficulties, cough, weight loss, and chest pain are the first indicators that mesothelioma may be present in an individual who was exposed to asbestos. These symptoms can be easily confused with other, more common diseases. Also, by the time those particular symptoms appear, the mesothelioma has often reached stage 2 or 3 and treatment becomes quite difficult and often unsuccessful. Earlier diagnosis means curative surgery might be possible and also indicates more successful treatment with other conventional therapies, including chemotherapyand radiation.