Mesothelioma is difficult to diagnose because symptoms can take 10-50 years to develop after asbestos exposure. However, initial results from a clinical study show that a breath test for pleural mesothelioma could lead to earlier diagnosis and better treatment outcomes in the coming years.
Researchers conducting the MESOBREATH 5 study are implementing ongoing testing to detect volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in exhaled breath that may be possible mesothelioma biomarkers (indicators of disease).
Scientists presented their findings in September at the 2023 World Conference on Lung Cancer in Singapore. Mesothelioma Hope spoke with lead researcher Dr. Kevin Lamote of the University of Antwerp, Belgium, to learn more about the study results and what they could mean for victims of asbestos exposure.
Study Reveals Encouraging Results for Mesothelioma Detection
Beginning in 2022, 121 patients with a significant history of asbestos exposure at least 25 years prior underwent breath testing. Additionally, 7 patients with confirmed malignant pleural mesothelioma received the same testing as a control.
All 7 participants who were already diagnosed with mesothelioma tested positive 2 years in a row, showing the test is able to detect mesothelioma.
To reduce the number of false positives, researchers administered another identical round of testing for each participant in 2023. Results revealed that 55 participants who had been exposed to asbestos but had not been previously diagnosed with mesothelioma tested positive for VOCs both years.
“The test has very good sensitivity and negative predictive value, meaning that we can detect mesothelioma when present and rule out disease in an at-risk population when the test is negative,” Dr. Lamote told Mesothelioma Hope.
Lamote stated that despite these promising findings, his team is seeing a lot of false positives, which “isn’t necessarily a bad thing since we do not know how much in advance the test could detect mesothelioma,” adding that some of the false positives could be people in the early stages of the disease who aren’t showing symptoms yet.
In the next step of the study, participants with positive breath tests will have low-dose CT scans taken to confirm whether they have mesothelioma.
Providing a Better Understanding of Treatment Response
Dr. Lamote and his team also used the breath test to predict how patients would respond to mesothelioma treatment.
A group of 13 pleural mesothelioma patients had a breath test and CT scans every few months before and after treatment. Their breath test results were put into a computer model to predict how their cancer would progress and respond to treatment.
The test was 89% accurate in differentiating between patients whose mesothelioma did not progress and those whose mesothelioma did progress.
Each patient received the same treatment, leading Lamote and fellow researchers to conclude that the amount of VOCs detected in breath tests could be linked to the behavior of mesothelioma tumors.
Improved Screening for Asbestos Victims
“The breath test will make the presently ‘wild’ screening of at-risk individuals with various imaging methods redundant,” said Dr. Lamote, citing that if breath testing proves accurate, it will become a useful, non-invasive surveillance tool for doctors while at the same time relieving emotional stress for victims of asbestos exposure.
Because mesothelioma takes so long to show symptoms, most patients don’t get diagnosed until their cancer is at an advanced stage. Earlier detection could lead to better treatment outcomes and longer life expectancy for these patients.
While Dr. Lamote says these initial study findings are encouraging, he adds that larger population studies will be necessary going forward.
MESOBREATH 5 is a 4-year study with identical testing to be repeated in 2024 and 2025.
How We Can Help You Navigate a Mesothelioma Diagnosis
Navigating a mesothelioma diagnosis can be one of the most stressful seasons of someone’s life. From multiple doctor’s visits to overwhelming medical information, it can feel like there’s nowhere to turn for help.
Mesothelioma Hope is here for you. Our team of Patient Advocates can connect you with top mesothelioma specialists in your area so you can get the best treatment.