Likely asbestos tumor candidates to be tracked

Kyodo News

Researchers at Juntendo University said Thursday they will begin a five-year survey in February that will track about 40,000 people in an effort to find people susceptible to mesothelioma — a cancer caused mainly by asbestos exposure.

Okio Hino, a professor of pathology and oncology at the university, said the group hopes the data will reveal a model for diagnosing mesothelioma tumors at an early stage.

Mesothelioma is known to have an extended incubation period from exposure to asbestos particles until to symptom development. The shortest is around 20 years, with the average at 40 years.

An increasing number of people are considered susceptible to developing the tumor in the years ahead in Japan because imports of asbestos, used chiefly in building materials, peaked in the mid-1970s.

The project uses a simple diagnostic kit developed by Hino and his fellow researchers. It detects in a blood sample an antibody that comes with a certain type of protein secreted by the tumor.

The group at Juntendo University, based in Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward, will work with health-care institutions in Tokyo and ask construction and factory workers who may have inhaled asbestos particles to undergo diagnosis with the kit free of charge.

Those diagnosed with the antibody will be urged to undergo further checkups at the university, the group said.

Juntendo Hospital, affiliated with the university, opened an outpatient department for asbestos-linked mesothelioma in August 2005, making it the first university hospital in Japan to establish such a unit.

The 40,000 people in the study will be asked to undergo periodic checks in every spring and autumn through 2012, the group said.

The tumor develops in the pleura or peritoneum and causes pain in the chest and breathing difficulty. If such symptoms surface, it often signals that the tumor has developed considerably and poses challenges in treatment.

The project is subject to approval by the university’s ethics panel, which is to meet shortly. It will be the first nationwide long-term survey of people susceptible to the tumor, Hino said.