Individuals who carry a mutation in a gene called BAP1 are susceptible to developing two forms of cancer ? mesothelioma, and melanoma of the eye. Mesothelioma tumors are typically associated with asbestos and erionite exposure.
Additionally, when these individuals are exposed to asbestos or similar mineral fibers, their risk of developing mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer of the lining of the chest and abdomen, may be markedly increased.
The study, published online Aug. 28, 2011, in Nature Genetics, describes two U.S. families with a high incidence of mesothelioma, as well as other cancers, associated with mutations of the BAP1 gene.
Mesothelioma tumors are typically associated with asbestos and erionite exposure. Erionite, a naturally occurring mineral fiber similar to asbestos, is found in rock formations and volcanic ash. Deposits have been located in at least 12 states.
Only a small fraction of individuals exposed to erionite or asbestos actually develop mesothelioma, one of the deadliest forms of cancer that kills about 3,000 people each year in the United States, with half of those diagnosed dying within one year.
Identifying people at greatest risk for developing mesothelioma, especially those exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos and erionite worldwide, is a task made easier by virtue of this discovery.
The study found evidence that some people with BAP1 gene mutations also developed breast, ovarian, pancreatic or renal cancers, suggesting the gene mutation may be involved in multiple cancer types.
Tumors from about 25 percent of this group carried mutations in the BAP1 gene, and in two cases the mutations were inherited. Both of the individuals with inherited mutations had previously developed melanoma of the eye.
Source: National Cancer Institute, USA