Diagnostic mesothelioma biomarkers in effusion cytology

Cancer Cytopathol. 2021 Jul;129(7):506-516. doi: 10.1002/cncy.22398. Epub 2021 Jan 19.


Malignant mesothelioma is a rare malignancy with a poor prognosis whose development is related to asbestos fiber exposure. An increasing role of genetic predisposition has been recognized recently. Pleural biopsy is the gold standard for diagnosis, in which the identification of pleural invasion by atypical mesothelial cell is a major criterion. Pleural effusion is usually the first sign of disease; therefore, a cytological specimen is often the initial or the only specimen available for diagnosis. Given that reactive mesothelial cells may show marked atypia, the diagnosis of mesothelioma on cytomorphology alone is challenging. Accordingly, cell block preparation is encouraged, as it permits immunohistochemical staining. Traditional markers of mesothelioma such as glucose transporter 1 (GLUT1) and insulin-like growth factor 2 mRNA-binding protein 3 (IMP3) are informative, but difficult to interpret when reactive proliferations aberrantly stain positive. BRCA1-associated protein 1 (BAP1) nuclear staining loss is highly specific for mesothelioma, but sensitivity is low in sarcomatoid tumors. Cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor 2A (CDKN2A)/p16 homozygous deletion, assessed by fluorescence in situ hybridization, is more specific for mesothelioma with better sensitivity, even in the sarcomatoid variant. The surrogate marker methylthioadenosine phosphorylase (MTAP) has been found to demonstrate excellent diagnostic correlation with p16. The purpose of this review is to provide an essential appraisal of the literature regarding the diagnostic value of many of these emerging biomarkers for malignant mesothelioma in effusion cytology.

Keywords: biomarker; cytology; immunohistochemistry; mesothelioma; mesothelium; pleural effusion.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis*
  • Homozygote
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Mesothelioma, Malignant / diagnosis*
  • Mesothelioma, Malignant / genetics
  • Mesothelioma, Malignant / metabolism*
  • Mesothelioma, Malignant / pathology
  • Pleural Effusion / genetics
  • Pleural Effusion / metabolism*
  • Pleural Effusion / pathology*
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins / analysis
  • Ubiquitin Thiolesterase / analysis


  • BAP1 protein, human
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins
  • Ubiquitin Thiolesterase