UCSF team develops quick test for risk of mesothelioma, respiratory cancersGenetic mutations are at the core of all cancers. Whether they naturally occur with age or, as is the case with malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM), are caused by exposure to asbestos or other toxins, their results can pose a serious threat to health. And since pulmonary tumors are the leading cause of cancer-related deaths, scientists have added incentive to find quick ways to pinpoint the mutations that lead to these dangerous illnesses.
This urgency is one of the reasons that a team of scientists from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), recently developed a fast and simple screen - or "assay" - for five mutations commonly linked to MPM and other respiratory cancers.
Such tests are currently cost-prohibitive
With financial assistance from the Kazan, McClain, Abrams, Fernandez, Lyons, Greenwood, Harley and Oberman Foundation, the group of thoracic oncologists dove into the world of genetic screening, which is a rapidly changing field at the moment. The results of their investigation appeared in the International Journal of Oncology.
Genetic screening is not commonly performed for pulmonary cancers in the same way it is for, say, breast cancer. That is because testing for malignant mutations of lung and pleural tissue can be time-consuming and quite expensive.
Thus, while it is common for women with odd mammography results to get screened for the notorious BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations (responsible for a very high risk of breast cancer), patients with lung trouble or a history of asbestos exposure are far less likely to receive a genetic assay of their own.
However, all that may soon change, as the UCSF team has announced creating a quick and inexpensive screen for five mutations often found in cases of pulmonary cancer.
Early detection is the goal
In their report, the group described putting together an assay that checks for five common mutations - namely, of the EGFR, K-ras, TP53, BRAF and beta-catenin genes. Researchers then used the assay to test tissue samples taken from 96 patients with pulmonary carcinomas.
The team found that, in 58 percent of cases, at least one of the five mutations was spotted in sample tissue. And about one in four patients tested positive for all three of the so-called major respiratory mutations - i.e. of the EGFR, K-ras and TP53 genes.
UCSF researchers concluded that quick, cheap tests like this one could be used to verify the prognoses of respiratory cancer patients or to customize a person's treatment to their unique genetic profile.
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