The use of asbestos became increasingly popular among manufacturers and builders in the late 19th century because of its sound absorption, tensile strength, resistance to fire, heat, electrical and chemical damage, and of course, its affordability. It was used in such applications as electrical insulation for hotplate wiring and in building insulation. When asbestos is used for its resistance to fire or heat, the fibers are often mixed with cement (resulting in fiber cement) or woven into fabric or mats. At the time, asbestos was making the world of building construction a safer, better place. However, today asbestos is a well-known carcinogen that can cause several types of cancers, including mesothelioma. In the United States, the majority of workers who come into contact with asbestos today are those who work in the demolition of existing buildings. In most cases, asbestos dust is accidentally inhaled by construction workers. Yet mesothelioma and other cancers may not be detected until many years after the construction worker is exposed to asbestos. By this time, the cancer may be at an advanced stage and unresponsive to treatment. Symptoms of the dreadful disease include shortness of breath, cough, chest pain, weight loss and night sweats. By the time people are diagnosed with mesothelioma, the survival time is often about 12 months 

Nevertheless, new research suggests that a blood test may identify the often difficult to diagnose cancer of mesothelioma. In results of the study that appeared in the October 11 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, a new “biomarker” test has been developed. Dr. Harvey Pass, a professor of thoracic oncology at NYU Lengone Medical Center. Dr. Pass has been leading the way of this new test, a “biomarker test”. Dr. Pass and his team have been trying to identify a so-called “biomarker,” such as fibulin-3, that could lead to earlier detection and probably more effective treatment of mesothelioma. The researchers tested study volunteers for fibulin-3 and tested for fluid in their lungs. Dr. Pass states “in the mesothelioma patients, fibulin-3 was four to five times higher than in asbestos-exposed individuals”. The study also found that Plasma levels of fibulin-3 were significantly higher when mesothelioma was present. And when lung fluid was tested, the researchers had similar results of levels of fibulin-3 were significantly elevated in people with mesothelioma.

This “biomarker” test is a more effective way to test for asbestos. But Dr. Pass believes that further work needs to be validated. Dr. Pass would like to do a trial of people who were exposed to asbestos but don’t have symptoms to see if fibulin- 3 can pick up mesothelioma well before symptoms appear. Dr. Len Horovitz, an internist and pulmonologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said the study findings might prove useful, if confirmed. Stating that “Normal people don’t have the marker; you have to have had asbestos exposure. This may be one way to identify people at risk of mesothelioma that you need to follow more closely.”

While the “biomarker” test is a breakthrough if proven valid, unfortunately, asbestos is a potent risk for demolition construction workers everywhere, and for some it might be too late. As mentioned, mesothelioma and other cancers may not be detected until many years of being exposed to asbestos. If cancer occurs years after being exposed to asbestos, an attorney might help to prove that the illness was caused by the construction work and to help get the benefits you deserve.

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