While it has long been known that exposure to asbestos has been found to be a causative factor in mesothelioma , it is less understood exactly how the exposure will later morph into the disease itself. Recently, there has been much study into the effects of asbestos on the genetic makeup of the tissues it affects in the hopes that identifying these changes can assist in early diagnosis and a better life expectancy in association with mesothelioma.
Exposure to asbestos has been linked with what scientists know as genetic deletions, in which a gene, in this case the 9p21 gene, is deleted and the benefits of the specific gene are lost. Since 9p21 is a prominent base for a tumor suppressor gene, that, when activated, will assist the body in fighting off a specific cancer, when it is absent or deactivated, the result is an unregulated growth of the specified cancer which, in this case, is Mesothelioma, a rare and highly malignant form off the disease.
Mesothelioma is named for the epithelial lining that it affects, the mesothelium, which surrounds and protects many organs throughout the body, though the initial sites of origin for the disease are typically found within the lungs and the peritoneum. While the 9p21 may be the specific gene affected by asbestos and often leads to mesothelioma, once the cancer has routed, it spreads to and morphs the genetic makeup of the tissue found there, allowing for further growth and malignancy as, unchecked, the altered DNA spreads through the body via lymph nodes and cause further genetic remodeling and metastases in areas that the infected fluid can accumulate.
The main problem with Mesothelioma, as with other cancers, is that it has often advanced to a later stage when it is discovered and carcinogenesis is well established. The cells continue to replicate the altered genetic material until the original cellular structure is poorly differentiated, meaning that the original cellular makeup is nearly lost to the altered DNA. However, greater knowledge of exposure risks can lead to a greater chance of early detection, as the morphing genetic information can be found within the blood when studied for specific tumor markers.