The U.S. Senate unanimously passed Senate resolution 66 designating the first week of April 2013 as “National Asbestos Awareness Week.” Asbestos is known to cause lung cancer and mesothelioma by breathing in asbestos fibers that become lodged in the lung or lining of the lung. One of the goals of resolution 66 is to warn and educate people about the dangers of asbestos exposure. Despite it’s dangerous and adverse public health interests, asbestos is still mined, imported and used around the world. According to Dr. Richard Lemen, Assistant Surgeon General and one of the speakers at the Global Asbestos Awareness Week Conference, “vast amounts of asbestos are still used in many developing countries where exposure is not limited to just workers.” A safe level of exposure to asbestos has not been able to be determined and therefore most industrial countries have banned its use. However, according to Dr. Lemen “this has not been true for Canada or the United States where products can still contain asbestos.”
Lung Cancer and mesothelioma are aggressive diseases caused by exposure to asbestos. As a result, early detection and prompt treatment are crucial. Researchers have recently reported the development of a non-invasive method for early detection of cancer cells called the Forster Resonance Energy Transfer, or FRET. “A team of Chilean researchers at The Centro de Estudios Cientificos (CECs), with the collaboration of Carnegie’s Wolf Frommer, has devised a molecular sensor that can detect levels of lactate in individual cells in real time,” according to a press release dated March 14, 2013 from the Carnegie Institution for Science. Lactate goes between cells and inside cells in our body as part of the normal metabolic process. Through this research they found that the tumor cells produced lactate 3-5 times faster than non-tumor cells. “The high rate of lactate production in the cancer cell is the hallmark of cancer metabolism,” remarked Frommer. Research and new diagnostic techniques such as the FRET will provide earlier detection of cancer cells and hopefully better treatment choices.
As the first week of April comes to a close, BE AWARE that asbestos-caused diseases have a 10-50 year latency period from initial exposure to the development of the disease. Even though you may have been exposed to asbestos that long ago, if you have any concerns regarding your exposure and your health, consult your physician early for diagnosis and treatment options.