Making National Mesothelioma Awareness Day A Reality

Since 2005, the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (MARF) has promoted September 26 as Mesothelioma Awareness Day. The day is meant to serve as both a day to honor and remember those who have suffered from this rare lung disease, as well as promote awareness so that future generations might see fewer instances of the illness.

In an effort to bring further awareness, mesothelioma advocates have been pushing to have the day recognized by the U.S. government as a national day of awareness. A bill linked to this goal – H. Res. 771 – is scheduled to be added to the legislative calendar for the House of Representatives. If passed and signed by the president, it would serve as a major victory for raising awareness about the hazards of asbestos – the natural fiber that has been linked to mesothelioma formation when inhaled into the lungs.

To help bring national awareness, MARF is urging people to get involved to help raise awareness for making Mesothelioma Awareness Day official in your city, state or country. Ways that individuals can help include:

  • Contact your city council and ask what needs to be done in order to get a proclamation declaring September 26 as Mesothelioma Awareness Day

  • Contact your state governor’s office and ask for a permanent State resolution

  • Contact House representatives and senators in your state to ask for national recognition

  • Contact local media about proclamations and ask them to help raise awareness

  • Get the word out by presenting the proclamation to surrounding communities

Regardless of national recognition, September 26 has come to be a special and important day for those personally affected by mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare lung disease that has no cure. An estimated 2,000 to 3,000 Americans die from the illness each year.

Asbestos Exposure and Health

What are my risks of asbestos exposure?

We all face exposure to asbestos in the air we breathe, but this type of exposure is low-level, ranging from 0.00001 to 0.0001 fibers for every millimeter of air and usually these are highest in industrial areas and cities.

Individuals working in industries where asbestos products are manufactured or used or those who may be deployed at asbestos mining sites can face high levels of exposure to asbestos. People who may be living in areas adjoining these industries may also face high level of exposure to asbestos.

Asbestos fibers can get released into the air due to the disturbance of materials that contain asbestos. This can occur during product use, demolition activity, or building or home repair, renovation and remodeling. Usually, exposure occurs only in specific situations when asbestos-based materials are disturbed in such a way that it leads to the release of asbestos fibers and dust into the air.

Asbestos can be found in drinking water, and this may be due to asbestos coming from natural sources or via cement pipes that contain asbestos.

How will my health be affected due to asbestos?

In most cases, asbestos affects the lungs and also the membranes which surround the lungs. Inhaling asbestos fibers in large quantities over long periods can lead to the development of scar-like tissue in the lungs as well as in the pleural membrane (lining) that covers the lung. This disease is referred to as asbestosis and is normally prevalent amongst workers who were exposed to asbestos. However, it is not prevalent in the general population. Individuals diagnosed with asbestosis face breathing problems, usually have a cough, and in more serious cases, are detected with heart enlargement. Asbestosis is a critical disease and may eventually result in disability or death.

Inhaling asbestos fibers or dust in smaller proportions can lead to specific changes referred to as plaques in the pleural lining. This type of pleural plaques can be found amongst workers and sometimes in individuals who may be living in areas that have high levels of asbestos in the air. Breathing problems, if any, resulting from pleural plaques are generally not serious, but higher levels of exposure can result in the thickening of the pleural lining which may restrict breathing.

Personalization of Cancer Treatment Poised to Go Mainstream

Over the past years, there has been a large influx of research related to the personalization of cancer treatment. As the fruits of these efforts finally begin to be harvested, Kalorama Information – a market research firm – suggests that personalized cancer care is set to become a standard method of cancer treatment.

In a recent biennial review, “The Worldwide Market for Cancer Diagnostics,” Kalorama announced that they expect the cancer testing market for equipment used to match cancer therapies to a specific patient will reach $90 million by 2014.

The estimation comes on the heels of the FDA approval for some of the first commercially available pharmacodiagnostic testing procedures. Presently, there are five such tests that have passed trial phases to become accepted methods for improving cancer treatment. These tests are used to match patients to such drugs as Erbitux, Gleevec, Herceptin and Tarceva.

Perhaps the greatest early success of personalized cancer care is the breast cancer test known as Oncotype DX. This test has quickly become the norm in diagnosing breast cancer and is used extensively to determine the best course of treatment. In use since 2004, the test has proven effective in predicting the potential for chemotherapy treatments to positively affect a cancerous tumor.

In addition to these FDA-approved tests, several other pharmacodiagnostic procedures are currently in the research pipeline and expected to be approved for public use in the coming years. As interest and growth in the sub-sector of personalized medicine continues to find success, Kalorama predicts growth levels of research on the subject to exceed that of the industry as a whole.

Specifically, according to Shara Rosen, senior diagnostic analyst at Kalorama, “We expect pharmacogenomics, predisposition diagnostics and molecular diagnostics (PGx) to show 25 to 30 percent annual growth over the next five to ten years.” Hopefully, this growth will lead to improved cancer treatments and survival rates.

Resource:

http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/Personalized-Cancer-Testing-and-Treatment-Closer-to-Norm-Report-Says-1154750.htm

Wading Through the Mountains of Data Culled From Cancer Genome Projects

In 2008, an entity known as the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC) was created. The goal of this Consortium – which combines the forces of 12 different countries – is to work together to map the genetic codes of various types of cancer. By scrutinizing various genetic mutations and other data gleaned from these cancer genomes, it is hoped that improvements in cancer therapies and treatments can be made.

However, such a task is proving remarkably complex and difficult. This is largely in part to the sheer numbers that are associated with mapping genomes. Each specific cancer has thousands of genes within its unique genetic code. Within these thousands of genes, there are dozens or even hundreds of mutations that may or may not be pertinent to the cancer’s ability to accelerate growth, thwart immune system responses or metastasize in new regions of the body.

So, while gene mapping may be helping to identify mutations within a specific type of cancer, the sheer number of them frequently makes it difficult to pinpoint which genes are worth focusing on.

Exacerbating the issue, is the fact that some mutations might appear to be relatively innocuous, when actually the opposite is the case. For example, a mutation related to colorectal cancer (IDH1) appeared in only one reviewed case out of 300. Due to this fact, the importance of the gene was seen as inconsequential and put aside in favor of more prevalent mutations.

However, later research indicated that IDH1 turned up in a number of other types of cancers. For example, researchers mapping brain cancer discovered the unique mutation in 12 percent of all samples. It also appeared in eight percent of acute myeloid leukemia cases. Due to these higher percentages, further investigations into the mutation were warranted, and it was found to be a major contributor to the promotion of cancer growth.

Clearly, the example of IDH1 proves that genomic sequencing of cancer cells can be beneficial. Still, with about 75 cancer genomes already completed, and hundreds scheduled for completion within the year, the glut of data can often be daunting for cancer researchers.

Another issue facing the ICGC (as well as other cancer genome projects), is the fairly small number of samples used to find patterns within mutations. As Joe Gray, a researcher with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, puts it, ” In the early days, I thought that doing a few hundred tumors would probably be sufficient. (However) even at the level of 1,000 samples, I think we’re probably not going to have the statistics we want.”

Without these larger samples to draw from, it becomes more difficult to identify the most prevalent or impactful mutations associated with a cancer’s growth. This is one of the reasons that IDH1 was initially neglected as a mutation worth studying.

Even with larger sample groups, the route to finding genetic drivers for a cancer’s success can be like searching for a needle in a haystack. In some cases, strong drivers have been identified in less than one percent of all cancer samples. While not as prevalent as other mutations, understanding how these less-common genes affect cancer growth may still be worth investigation.

So, as one might guess, the process for going line by line through thousands of mutations to find the ones that are worth targeting is a painfully drawn out process. And in the cases where a notable mutation is found, the discovery may prove meaningless unless a molecular inhibitor can be found that ostensibly switches this mutation “off.” Then, and only then, can researchers begin the process of developing a drug treatment that effectively targets the mutated gene.

While the process is clearly difficult and complex, the potential gains of mapping a cancer’s genome prove too beneficial to ignore. With small successes like IDH1 helping to spur on research, scientists will continue to dig through the genomic maps in an effort to identify causative genes and create medications that can vastly improve survival rates.

Resource:

http://wavefunction.fieldofscience.com/2010/04/it-not-mutation-stupid.html

http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100414/full/464972a.html

Costs for Treating Cancer in U.S. Double in Less Than 20 Years

Between 1987 and 2005, the estimated cost of treating cancer in the United States has doubled, according to a recent study published in the journal, Cancer.

Adjusting for inflation, the total cost of treating cancer within the United States in 1987 is estimated at $24.7 billion. Between the periods of 2001 and 2005, that same figure is estimated at $48.1 billion.

Prior to the study, many researchers surmised that cancer costs were rising largely due to the increased cost of cancer drugs. However, new insight suggests that the actual increase is due the aging U.S. population and an increased number of people who are being diagnosed with cancer.

Even more surprising, is the fact that the increase in cancer costs remains in line with spending across the entire heath sector. Despite massive increases in cancer spending, it is estimated that treatment as a percentage of overall medical treatment has remained stagnant at five percent. Of course, this suggests that medical spending as a whole has also increased twofold.

While treatment of cancer is still far from affordable for many patients, the report does suggest that individual patients are paying less out of pocket than they were two decades ago. The study finds that private insurers now cover about eight percent more of treatment costs than they did in 1987 (up from 42 percent to 50 percent). Conversely, it was found that out-of-pocket payments by patients dropped from 17 percent to eight percent.

The findings reported in the Cancer journal are based on national telephone surveys performed in 1987 and between 2001 and 2005. Data culled from the more than 164,000 participants related to medical conditions and how payments for treatment were covered.

A shift from in-hospital cancer care to outpatient care has also been noted. Researchers report that costs associated with inpatient care dropped from 64 percent in 1987 to about 27 percent.

While out-of-pocket costs for patients seem to be dropping, experts are concerned that the growing number of costly cancer drugs that have come to market since 2005 may reverse that trend. Additionally, newer treatment technology and the need for larger testing pools may also result in increased costs for current cancer patients.

Resources:

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5irxd94N2Maqjt6E3z3XjCJ5uwvtwD9FJOA8G2

http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2010-05-10-cancercost10_ST_N.htm

Asbestos Exposure in the Home

How to reduce asbestos exposure risks in families?

Asbestos-containing materials generally do not cause any harm as long as they are in good condition and are not disturbed. Hence, they can be left alone. You need to do this to find out the right way to test your home and also to find a company that offers safe containment or removal of asbestos fibers.

Can a medical test reveal whether I have faced asbestos exposure?

Asbestos fibers at low levels can be detected in urine, feces, mucus, or lung washings of the general public. When more than average levels of asbestos fibers are found in tissue, it can substantiate exposure, but it may not be indicative of any health effects that you may experience.

A detailed history, physical examination and diagnostic tests are required to assess asbestos-related disease. Chest x-rays have proved the most effective screening tool to detect lung changes caused by asbestos exposure. CAT scans and lung function tests are also helpful in the detection of disease caused by asbestos exposure.

What steps have been taken by the Federal government to protect human health?

The EPA banned all new types of asbestos usage in the year 1989. However, uses that existed prior to this date are still permitted. Specific regulations were established by the EPA, for instance regulations that mandate school systems to check for damaged asbestos and to reduce or eliminate the exposure by safely removing or covering up the asbestos. To avoid asbestos from entering the environment, the EPA regulates the amount of asbestos being released from factories and during demolition or renovation of buildings.

The EPA has proposed a contamination limit of 7 million asbestos fibers for every liter of drinking water in case of long fibers (fibers that are greater than or equal to 5 µm).

As per the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the limit for fibers greater than or equal to 5 µm is 100,000 fibers for every cubic meter of workplace air, applicable to shifts of 8 hours and weeks of 40 hours.

Analyzing Genomic Cancer Differences Sheds Light on How Mesothelioma Cancer Spreads

Reviewing the differences in primary cancer cells (cells found in the primary tumor) and metastatic cancer cells (cells that have migrated to other regions of the body) is helping researchers better understand how cancer grows and spreads throughout the body.

In a recent study conducted at Washington University, scientists analyzed genetic differences between primary and metastatic breast cancer cells culled from the same patient. The research team also looked for differences between the cancer cells and healthy patient cells. In total, the team found 48 different mutations when comparing the cancer cells to healthy cells. In contrast, very few genetic differences were found between primary cancer cells and metastatic cancer cells.

However, the team did note a large difference in the frequency of mutations when looking at both types of cancer cells. Specifically, it was discovered that metastatic breast cancer cells that had migrated to the brain were far more likely to contain 20 of the 48 identified mutations.

Of these 20 genetic mutations, the research team believes one or several may be directly related to a cancer’s ability to spread within the body. For example, an identified gene labeled as CTNNA1 has previously been shown as a key component for helping cells stick to surrounding cells. Metastatic cells in the study frequently lacked this gene, which might suggest these cells are more likely to break free from the primary tumor location and head off to another region of the body.

As Richard Wilson, the senior author for the study and director of the Genome Sequencing Center at Washington University, suggests, “It’s as if a small subset of cells broke off from the primary tumor, circulated through blood, found a new home in the brain, and began to grow wildly and out of control.”

The findings are spurring hope among the researchers that cancer medications can eventually be made that specifically target the mutated genes that help a cancer spread. However, before this can be done, the research must be validated from studies that incorporate a high volume of patients. The Washington University team already has these high-volume tests in the works – several hundred unique cancer genome sequences are set to be completed in the coming year.

Resource:

http://www.technologyreview.com/biomedicine/25094/