Study Finds Asbestos in Gallbladders of Pleural Mesothelioma Patients

According to a study published last week on the website of the Journal of Microscopy, Italian researchers have confirmed that asbestos fibers can be found in the gallbladders of individuals who have been diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. This study demonstrates that asbestos fibers breathed in through the lungs can reach remote parts of the body, potentially causing cancer and other debilitating diseases.

During the study, a team of scientist took two extremely thin slices of tissue from the gallbladders of patients who were known to have developed pleural mesothelioma. These tissue samples underwent a process known as histological study using both optical microscopes, through which doctors observed the samples visually, and energy-dispersive spectroscopy, an advanced technique that uses X-rays to analyze the sample.

The scientists also used immunohistochemical analysis to determine where the asbestos became incorporated into the gallbladder tissues. This occurred in the connective tissue of the organ.

The result of the research team’s investigation led to the discovery of both chrysotile and crocidolite, two of the most common – and most lethal – types of asbestos found in various products and materials around the world.

Asbestos has long been associated with the development of mesothelioma and other cancers, as well as a range of lung-related conditions such as asbestosis, pleural plaques, and pleural effusion. Today, most scientific studies focus on identifying the exact mechanisms by which asbestos causes these diseases, as well as finding better ways to detect, diagnose, treat, and prevent mesothelioma from developing.

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One of the most revealing aspects of this study is the confirmation that asbestos can travel throughout the body once it is breathed in through the lungs. While asbestos is known to play a role in both peritoneal mesothelioma (which affects the lining of the abdomen) and pericardial mesothelioma (which affects the lining of the heart), there is still some debate on exactly how the asbestos fibers move throughout the body.

By confirming that asbestos could be found in the gallbladders of pleural mesothelioma patients – whose cancer originated in the linings of the lungs – doctors now have further evidence that the detrimental effects of breathing asbestos goes well beyond just the lungs themselves, and could potentially be implicated in other cancers and related diseases.

While the Italian research team that worked on this study only looked at the gallbladder, the techniques they used could become a blueprint for studying the presence of asbestos in other areas of the body. Hopefully, such work will lead to additional insights as to how asbestos travels through the body.

Image courtesy of CSIRO.