KAKAAKO (HawaiiNewsNow) - Some of the world's leading research on mesothelioma cancer is happening right here at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center. The center recently received the second largest donation ever - specifically dedicated to finding ways to prevent and treat the disease.
UH researchers have made a series of scientific breakthroughs in mesothelioma, and now, they're getting a bigger shot in the arm - a gift of three and a half million dollars from an anonymous, mainland donor. The center is becoming one of the leading facilities for mesothelioma studies.
"Hawaii is in the center of the world because it's the bridge between Asia and the United States, so it's the perfect place if you want to run a big research team that involves research from different parts of the world," says Dr. Michele Carbone, the cancer center's director.
Mesothelioma is a rare, aggressive cancer in the lining of the lung and abdomen. Most of the time, it's caused by asbestos - a mineral fiber - that we inhale. Dr. Carbone says Hawaii has some of the higher rates of asbestos in the country, in large part because of materials once used at the Pearl Harbor shipyard. The disease develops after prolonged exposure and inhalation, but it's a longshot.
"Among people who are very heavily exposed, like asbestos miners, 4.6% of those who work in an asbestos mine for many years will develop mesothelioma," explains Carbone.
Because it takes decades to develop, doctors usually discover the disease in older patients between ages 60 and 80. The median survival time after diagnosis is 12 months.
Some in Hawaii who've developed the disease have sued. We've all seen those TV commercials saying, "If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you may be entitled to financial compensation. It's become a big moneymaker, according to Carbone. "Billions of dollars exchange hands every year around mesothelioma litigation."
Researchers hope continued discoveries - and generous donors - can help prevent and treat the disease before the cases ever have to head to court.