3 New Methods of Detecting Mesothelioma

Treatment // October 18, 2016

A lot of research is being done in an attempt to find a new ways of treating mesothelioma, as well as improve on conventional methods (surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation). Some of these new methods include things like immunotherapy, gene therapy, and cryotherapy. They are exciting areas of research not just for mesothelioma, but for all forms of cancer as well.

However, finding new treatments isn’t the only research that is taking place at mesothelioma and cancer clinics throughout the country. Since one of the best ways to improve a mesothelioma diagnosis is to detect the cancer early, a lot of effort is also going into new ways to discover the disease before it has spread throughout the the body.

This article highlights three recently published studies that show promise for offering better ways to detect mesothelioma earlier than current standard methods allow.


Exosomes are vesicles – that is, tiny little substances found in the blood that are formed as a natural part of the creation of cells, such as blood cells. One of the interesting aspects of exosomes is that they contain some of the material from their originating cells, including proteins and RNA. As a result, exosomes can be used in some cases to detect certain forms of cancer, such as ovarian, prostate, and colorectal cancer. Since exosomes are released into urine by the kidney, these cancers could be detected by something as simple as a urine test.

In a study published in Scientific Reports, Dr. David W. Greening and a team of researchers looked at the viability of using exosomes to detect mesothelioma. Basing their study on the success of previous studies that were able to detect other forms of cancer, Dr. Greening and team looked at a variety of different exosomes released by malignant mesothelioma cells and analyzed them according to several different models.

Although this study itself did not provide definitive evidence that mesothelioma could be detected using exosomes, the research team is hopeful that they are looking in the right direction. Ultimately, the team concluded that, “Tumour-derived exosomes and their cargo represent exciting and potentially early targets for circulating markers of [malignant mesothelioma]….”

Mesothelioma Breath Test

Another interesting study recently came out of Belgium, where a team of scientists at Ghent University published a paper in the Journal of Breath Research on the possibility of using something as simple as a breath test to detect pleural mesothelioma – the most common type of mesothelioma found in the linings of the lungs, which accounts for around 80% of mesothelioma cases.

Specifically, using a relatively simple breath test, the researchers were able to differentiate between asbestos workers who had no sign of any disease from workers who had already developed mesothelioma. This breath test, known as multicapillary column/ion mobility spectrometry (MCC/IMS), has previously been used as a method to detect other harmful substances inhaled by workers in various fields.

Surprisingly, this breath test provided an astonishing 87% overall accuracy rate, according to the paper. “Breath analysis by MCC/IMS allows [malignant pleural mesothelioma] patients to be discriminated from controls and holds promise for further investigation as a screening tool for former asbestos-exposed persons at risk of developing MPM,” the researchers concluded in their paper.


Perhaps the most exciting study to come to light recently is the use of a protein known as high-mobility group box 1 (HMGB1) to detect mesothelioma. As a blood test, this new diagnostic method is a little more invasive than the other two studies above. However, the accuracy and sensitivity of the results give it much more promise as a useful tool for mesothelioma diagnosis than other tests that currently exist.

Basically, the test uses HMGB1 as a biomarker, that is, a substance which can be used to detect the presence of cancer. Since HMGB1 is produced by cells that have been damaged by asbestos, it is generally found in higher quantities in people who have mesothelioma. However, the researchers took their test one step further and found that they could also identify patients who had been exposed to asbestos, but who have not yet developed mesothelioma.

This ability to detect both mesothelioma patients and asymptomatic individuals who have been exposed to asbestos is an incredible development in mesothelioma diagnosis. This means that people who are known to have asbestos exposure could be monitored, and any mesothelioma development could be discovered right away, well before the cancer grows and starts to spread throughout the body.

Continuing the Search for Early Detection

These three methods of detecting mesothelioma are still in the early stages of development. They will need to go through additional trials to make sure the results are valid, and it will likely be many years before they replace existing methods of mesothelioma detection – if they ever even get that far.

Nonetheless, the search for a way to diagnose mesothelioma early is a worthy one. As it is now, a big part of the reason that mesothelioma is such a deadly disease is due to the fact that it is usually caught at such a late stage. By finding tumors earlier, patients have a significantly better chance at stopping the disease before it spreads – and hopefully living much longer.