Given that Front Line Genomics was started after its founder’s father was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, it’s naturally a cause that we care passionately about. To that end we sat down with Rachel Lynch from the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance (MCA), an organisation dedicated to providing resources, information, and support to individuals suffering from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases and their families, to find out more about the great work they do and the challenges they face every day. 

FLG: What is the MCA?

RL: The MCA is a group of professionals dedicated to providing support and offering information and educational resources to individuals suffering from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases, as well as to their families.

FLG: What’s the primary goal of the organisation?

RL: Our main goal is to provide comprehensive and up-to-date information regarding symptoms and treatment options for those who might be suffering from mesothelioma cancer. Beyond information about the disease, we also offer in-depth knowledge about the mineral asbestos. You can find details about what the material is, where exposure can take place, products that are known to contain asbestos, and companies and industries linked to this deadly toxin on the MCA website or in our comprehensive guide. The MCA wants people to learn, ask, and educate themselves through our organisation.

FLG: What are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing in achieving that goal?

RL: Our biggest hurdle is misinformation – for example, many people think asbestos is banned in the United States, even though it is not. Asbestos is extremely harmful and currently sourced and used throughout the United States, albeit currently in quantities of one percent or less. Although it’s banned in nearly 60 countries, including the UK, asbestos can still be found in many older structures and products still in use today, dating back to the First World War.

Due to the long latency of symptoms from asbestos exposure, people who came into contact with the mineral 30 years ago might only just be starting to see signs of asbestos related disease today. Asbestos forms in tiny microscopic bundles of fibres that, when disturbed, become airborne and can be ingested up to 72 hours later. Asbestos can sit in the body for 20 to 50 years without disrupting a person’s health. However, due to this long lag time between infection and diagnosis, when the cancer is discovered it is often late stage, leaving a patient with under a year to live their life.

FLG: What kind of services do you offer to mesothelioma patients?

RL: We provide a number of free resources for interested parties. For patients, we offer a detailed doctor directory which includes the top cancer centres and top treatment options available on a case-by-case level. We can also send anyone a free mesothelioma guide for those diagnosed with this cancer that explains steps to take and how to understand your diagnosis. We also offer free legal case reviews for those affected by mesothelioma. Since this type of cancer is not linked to genetics, but more often to exposure in a workplace or living situation, knowing your legal options is important. Companies who knowingly exposed people to asbestos gives people and their families the right to compensation.

FLG: How have advances in genomics helped mesothelioma patients over the last decade?

RL: Currently there are a multitude of treatment options. Immunotherapy and gene therapy are showing promising results for mesothelioma patients and as always, early detection has proven to prolong a patient’s life. The main function of gene therapy is to replace the bad, cancerous cells with healthy working cells. Immunotherapy works by fighting the cancer with the body’s own immune system, and the drug seeing the most promising results is known as monoclonal antibodies or “MABs”. MABs’ purpose is to target one type of cell in particular rather than stimulating the entire immune system. Photodynamic therapy (PDT) entails administering a drug that makes cancer cells sensitive to particular wavelengths of light. Although this form or treatment is still in experimental stages of testing, some specialty doctors have used PDT to ease symptoms and pain while improving quality of life.

FLG: How do you want to see the diagnosis and treatment of mesothelioma improve in the next five years? What do you think needs to change for these improvements to happen?

RL: Currently, less than nine percent of mesothelioma patients live longer than five years, so of course we’d love to see that number grow exponentially. The first step is to decrease the number of misdiagnoses and late diagnoses. Due to common external symptoms like a chronic cough, fatigue, night sweats and more, mesothelioma often gets mistaken for the flu or pneumonia. However, if mesothelioma can be caught during stage one or stage two of the cancer, more patients will have the opportunity to be treated with more options.