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Asbestos Triggers Immune Responses, Inflammation Linked To Mesothelioma Cancer

April 22nd, 2014

The toxic mesothelioma cancer-causing mineral asbestos has effects on the immune system which may be linked to mesothelioma, two new studies show. It may be part of the immune system’s response to asbestos exposure which helps lead to mesothelioma. Knowing this, scientists may be able to use the body’s immune responses to determine the severity of a mesothelioma case.

Asbestos Triggers Immune Responses Which Are Linked To Mesothelioma

One study out of Idaho State University in the US shows that, as well as triggering the rare and difficult to treat mesothelioma cancer, asbestos also negatively affects the body’s immune system. Despite asbestos’ well-known carcinogenic properties, the immune response to the mineral has only been the subject of study recently. Reporting in the journal Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, the researchers showed how they’d measured toxic effects produced by amphibole asbestos and its cousin, also suspected of causing mesothelioma, erionite.

Using macrophages, bone marrow derived immune system cells, to measure the effects, the researchers found both erionite and asbestos increased the body’s cytokine production. Since cytokines are measures of immune system activation, this showed both compouds increased immune activity.

The researchers also exposed lab mice to quantities of asbestos or erionite in their tracheas. Examining the blood serum of the mice seven months afterwards, the researchers found both asbestos- and erionite-exposed mice had elevated levels of key immune system-produced proteins and higher levels of anti-nuclear antibodies. Examining the kidneys of the mice showed that immune system waste products had increased from a normal 33%, see in those mice which had been treated with saline, all the way up to 90% in the mice which had been exposed to erionite.

These findings indicate that exposure to both asbestos and erionite triggers autoimmune responses, which may indicate further adverse effects in communities exposed to the minerals.

Inflammation May Predict Mesothelioma Cancer Prognosis

One of the most common autoimmune responses is inflammation, and another study looking at the connection between mesothelioma and inflammation has found that signs of inflammation may predict the degree to which patients respond to treatment.

Researchers at Duke University’s Department of Chest Diseases looked at a sample of 155 patients, comparing the data from the time when they were diagnosed and how long they survived. For all patients in the study, the average survival time was 13.8 months.

However, considering potential factors which would predict survival, the researchers found that age (being older than 60), neutrophil-to-lymphocyte ratio or NLR (of 3 or more), mesothelioma type (a non-epithelial variety), and red cell distribution width or RDW (20% or higher) all predicted poor survival rates.

Further analyzing the data, they discovered that RDW was such an important prognosis indcators that patients who had RDW levels 20% or higher were 2.77 times more likely to die, while patients with NLR levels over 3 were 1.67 times more likely to die. RDW measures the variation in blood cell size in a patient’s bloodstream, while NLR may be associated with inflammation.

The authors concluded that both NLR and RDW represented significant factors predicting the prognosis of a patient with malignant mesothelioma cancer. This is important for doctors, as prognostic factors are important for planning cancer treatments.