Early diagnosis of mesothelioma is critical for optimizing a patient’s chances of surviving this aggressive disease. Mesothelioma, a type of cancer associated almost exclusively with exposure to asbestos, is very rare and lethal.

research doctor performing tests in a lab

Detecting it early can make a big difference in the patient’s quality of life and of battling this disease, yet, this is often challenging because of various reasons.

The Difficulty in Diagnosing Mesothelioma

Many of the symptoms of mesothelioma are similar to other less serious illnesses, and benign growths on the mesothelial membranes around the abdomen or lungs can appear to be like malignant mesothelioma too, making it difficult to diagnose.

One of the main challenges has been in differentiating a benign growth from a malignant one.

New Tests Discovered

Two new tests have been discovered to make diagnosing mesothelioma easier and more accurate. These tests will help to distinguish between a malignant growth and a benign one.

One is gene testing, for the tumor-suppressing protein p16 and the other is an immunohistochemical test, which tests for BRCA1-associated protein (BAP1), a molecular marker which is commonly lost in patients with mesothelioma and other cancers.

Gene Testing

Gene testing is used to detect p16 in a patient suspected to have mesothelioma. It’s a protein that suppresses tumors but is often eliminated in people who have mesothelioma.

Called the Fluorescence In Situ Hybridization (FISH) test, it is an advanced test designed to look for p16 deletion which is found in all kinds of mesothelioma, but not so much in peritoneal mesothelioma.

In early reviews of FISH p16 testing on patients suspected to have mesothelioma, it was found that people with benign mesothelial tumors did not test positive for the deletion of p16, but in cases where the tumors were malignant, patients did test positive.

Immunohistochemical Test

This test looks at suspected mesothelioma tissue for certain antigens, namely the BRCA1-associated protein (BAP1).

Like the p16 FISH test, immunohistochemical testing for BAP1 revealed that those with benign tumors did not show any loss of BAP1. Instead, it only turned up in patients with malignant mesothelioma tumors.

Both tests do not necessarily detect mesothelioma in patients reliably, but they are potentially useful in the mesothelioma diagnosing process because of their specificity. The two tests can be performed together to increase the sensitivity of both tests.

It’s important to note that the loss of BAP1 or the deletion of p16 isn’t exclusive to mesothelioma, but can be detected in other types of cancers, which means that both Gene Testing and Immunohistochemical Test cannot conclusively detect mesothelioma cancer.

However, they do give our clients promise in identifying malignant mesothelioma tumors, contributing to the diagnosis of cancer, and then the treatment of the disease.