Regardless of a person's genes, mesothelioma comes from asbestos exposureWhat leads to malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM)? According to the National Cancer Institute, asbestos exposure is the sole proven cause of the disease. While other theories have been advanced, there is currently no evidence to support any of them.
This is why, when a team of Australia researchers recently argued that some people have a genetic susceptibility to mesothelioma, it's important to understand that they mean mesothelioma caused by asbestos inhalation.
Formers Wittenoomians suffer from MPM
In their report, researchers from the University of Western Australia searched through health registries to find information on former residents of Wittenoom. This town, once a bustling asbestos mining village near Australia's Karijini National Park, is now a ghost town. Literally: After being declared the nation's all-time largest disaster zone, Wittenoom was permanently closed to all through traffic and erased from official maps.
How bad was the experience of living in the town? Well, today, the Government of Western Australia warns visitors to avoid the Wittenoom area at all costs. To date, thousands of former residents have developed mesothelioma or asbestosis, following decades of inhaling huge amounts of blue asbestos fibers.
According to the new study, some of these individuals may have been more vulnerable to asbestos exposure than others.
A few families were hit harder
The research team found that, among 11,000 one-time Wittenoom residents, more than 1,000 families had been hit by mesothelioma. Of these cases, 142 families had seen multiple cases of MPM, including 25 cases suffered by directly related individuals. Based on calculations, the team had expected only 13 of the latter cases.
By controlling for lifetime asbestos exposure levels, researchers concluded that multiple cases of MPM among blood relations - so, say, father and son, rather than husband and wife - could point to "an important, but not large, genetic component in MM similar to that found for other cancers."
However, this doesn't mean that mesothelioma spontaneously occurs due to genetic variations. Instead, as the authors were careful to explain, their findings indicate that some people might be even more vulnerable to asbestos exposure than everyone else.
The team noted that, in all cases of mesothelioma that they examined, asbestos exposure was the sole cause of the disease. Researchers also intentionally left out family members who either never lived in Wittenoom or had never been exposed to asbestos, since their risk level was essentially nil.
Rare polyps may develop as a consequence of malignant mesothelioma, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3481150/, 11/6/12
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Charity 5k walk/run to raise money for mesothelioma research, http://www.theday.com/article/20120918/NWS01/120919658/1019&town=, 9/21/12
Family of five sisters to raise funds for mesothelioma charity, http://www.thisissomerset.co.uk/Sisters-plan-family-fun-day-memory-father/story-16840190-detail/story.html, 9/20/12