Your Genes Can Make Your Mesothelioma Risk Higher

If you have mesothelioma it might be because your genes — the ones you inherited from mom and dad — make you particularly vulnerable to diseases caused by asbestos exposure.

Researchers at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia have uncovered fresh evidence that mesothelioma susceptibility is passed down from one generation to the next.

This may explain why not everyone exposed to asbestos in the Navy or in blue-collar civilian trades eventually develops mesothelioma.

According to the Fox Chase mesothelioma researchers, the problem may be that a gene mutation occurs and creates the initial susceptibility to mesothelioma. This mutation is then inherited.

The gene that mutates is BAP1. BAP1 isn’t an insignificant gene. It influences what happens with a lot of other genes your body depends on to function correctly and be healthy.

Asbestos Exposure Is Deciding Factor

The Fox Chase researchers are being careful to explain that just because you inherited the mutated BAP1 gene doesn’t mean you’re going to develop mesothelioma.

They indicate that asbestos exposure is the deciding factor. In other words, you might have the BAP1 mutation but will never develop mesothelioma unless you are also exposed to asbestos.

By the same token, don’t assume you’ve dodged the mesothelioma bullet just because you don’t have the mutated BAP1 gene. Mesothelioma could still very easily be in your future if you were exposed to asbestos.

The lead author of the study — published in the journal Cancer Research — is Joseph R. Testa, Ph.D. He is co-leader of Fox Chase’s Cancer Biology Program.

Mesothelioma Risk Investigated

Testa and his research colleagues reached their conclusions about mutated BAP1 by conducting a study of mice.

Most of the mice were exposed to asbestos. A control group had zero exposure. Both sets of mice included some that had the BAP1 mutation and some that did not.

Seventy- three percent of asbestos-exposed mice with the BAP1 mutation developed mesothelioma. Only 32 percent without the BAP1 mutation developed it.

The researchers also observed that mesothelioma in the asbestos-exposed BAP1-mutated mice developed earlier and was more vicious.

Testa said these findings suggest that people should be tested to determine whether they have the BAP1 gene mutation. Testing is available at Fox Chase and a number of other mesothelioma centers around the country.

People who discover that they have the BAP1 mutation would be well advised to take precautions from then on, Testa added. The precautions he has in mind include having pulmonary, eye and skin tests performed at regular intervals.

This allows doctors to spot the mesothelioma tumors in their earliest stages. That’s vital because early detection of mesothelioma permits early treatment, which is usually most effective.

Testa also noted that inherited BAP1 mutations are rare. By his calculations, only about 3 percent of them occur as a result of parents passing them to offspring.

“But given how rarely people develop mesothelioma after exposure to asbestos, families with multiple cases of the disease have a good chance of carrying mutations in BAP1 and should be tested for that possibility,” he said.

Mesothelioma Gene Was Studied Before

This wasn’t the first time Testa has made headlines with mesothelioma research studying BAP1 mutations.

Three years ago, he and Michele Carbone, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Hawaii, tracked two families in which many members had both the BAP1 mutation and mesothelioma.

Interestingly, no one from either of those families was exposed to asbestos on the job or because of Navy service. The source of asbestos exposure was their homes.

It turns out that the houses in which they lived had been constructed using a variety of building materials and products containing asbestos.

That was common in homebuilding all across the U.S. up until the early 1980s. Millions of those asbestos-laden homes remain standing and occupied to this very day.

Fox Chase Provides Research and Treatment

Fox Chase Cancer Center belongs to the Temple University Health System. Since 1974, Fox Chase has held designation as a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Fox Chase ranks among the nation’s finest centers for mesothelioma research and treatment — as exemplified by the fact that two of its scientists won the Nobel Prize.

The center is noted for basic, translational and clinical research, with special programs in prevention, detection, survivorship and community outreach.