Leading Cancer Institutes Partner To Study Mesothelioma

By Sally Clapper

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in the Carolinas have partnered to study causes and factors related to a rare cancer called mesothelioma. FirstHealth is an acute care, nonprofit hospital that serves as a referral center for a 15 county region in the Carolinas. Wake Forest Baptist operates one of the nation's leading cancer centers, offering more than 200 cancer-related clinical trials.

Jill Ohar, a professor of genealogy from Wake Forest University, is the study's lead investigator. For more than twenty years, Ohar has been researching genetic factors and causes of occupational illnesses, such as asbestosis and mesothelioma. She runs clinical trials with the goal of discovering genetic and environmental causes that lead to diseases caused by inhalation of toxic substances. The goal of clinical trials researching mesothelioma is to find alternative and better ways of diagnosing, intervening, treating, and possibly curing this fatal disease. The aim of this clinical trial led by Wake Forest and FirstHealth is to further understand if some individuals are predisposed genetically to developing malignant mesothelioma. If a genetic link could be found that helped to identify patients that were more at risk, diagnosis and intervention methods could occur earlier and more effectively.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring carcinogenic mineral that was routinely added to many construction and industrial materials until government regulations restricting its use were established in the early 1980's. Until then, most workers in the shipping, automotive, construction, fireproofing, milling and mining industries were likely to be exposed in the course of their daily work. Exposure occurred directly to the worker, but also indirectly to family members when asbestos fibers were carried home on clothing or on the body.

Once exposed, workers or family members may not develop symptoms of the disease until decades after initial contact. The prognosis, once diagnosed, is usually poor. There is currently no cure available. Stopping further exposure is critical.

Mesothelioma is caused when asbestos fibers lodge in the mesothelium, or protective lining surrounding the lungs, heart and abdomen. Early diagnosis is difficult due to the long latency period between exposure and development of symptoms. More than 3000 alone in the United States develop mesothelioma, a particularly painful form of cancer.

Dr. Ohar's aim is to analyze the clinical and genetic differences between those that develop mesothelioma and those that don't in hopes of creating a profile of high-risk individuals. By doing so, the study could improve mesothelioma treatment as well as survival rates, accelerating diagnosis and intervention.

For anyone diagnosed with mesothelioma who is interested in participating in the study, please contact Dr. Ohar at 866-487-2344 or FirstHealth at 910-715-2200. Anyone who would like more information on other mesothelioma clinical trials, doctors or medical centers or who would like more information on how to get financial help to cover the cost of treatments, please call toll free and speak to a mesothelioma attorney who specializes in asbestos litigation at 1-800-440-4262. - 30540

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