The mystery of why asbestos causes cancer has now been solved.
Researchers led by Drs. Haining Yang and Michele Carbone at the University of Hawai'i Cancer Research Center, found that when asbestos kills cells, it does so by inducing a process called "programmed cell necrosis" that leads to the release of a molecule called high-mobility group box 1 protein (HMGB1).
HMGB1 starts a particular type of inflammatory reaction that causes the release of mutagens and factors that promote tumour growth.
The researchers also found that patients exposed to asbestos have elevated levels of HMGB1 in their serum.
Thus, they stated that it might be possible to target HMGB1 to prevent or treat mesothelioma and identify asbestos-exposed cohorts by simple HMGB1 serological testing.
In the study, the researchers proposed that by interfering with the inflammatory reaction caused by asbestos and HMGB1, it may be possible to decrease cancer incidence among cohorts exposed to asbestos and decrease the rate of tumour growth among those already affected by mesothelioma.
This research emphasizes the role of inflammation in causing different types of cancers and provides novel clinical tools to identify exposed individuals and prevent or decrease tumour growth.
The researchers question if it will be possible to prevent mesothelioma, like colon cancer, simply by taking aspirin or similar drugs that stop inflammation. They are about to test this hypothesis.
The study is published in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A.