The Mechanisms of Asbestos Causing Lung Cancer

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A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science explained why asbestos causes cancer. The researchers looked at the paradox of how asbestos fibers that kill cells can cause cancer when dead cells should not grow to form tumors. Findings show that when asbestos kills cells, it induces a process called ‘programmed cell necrosis” releasing a molecule called high-mobility group box 1 protein (HMGB1). This starts an inflammatory process causing the release of mutagens and factors that promote tumor growth.
The researchers found that patients exposed to asbestos had elevated levels of HMGB1 in their blood. Thus, it may be possible to identify those with asbestos by simple HMGB1 blood tests and targeting these individuals for prevention and treatment.
The researchers are interesting in determining whether interfering with the inflammatory reaction caused by asbestos and HMGB1 can decrease the cancer incidence of cohorts exposed to asbestos. They also wonder if taking an aspirin or similar drug that stops inflammation will prevent mesothelioma. More research is planned to test this hypothesis.

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