A mesothelioma diagnosis is something no one wants. And it is highly possible that symptoms such as shortness of breath, cough, fever, sweating, and fatigue, difficulty in swallowing and chest pain could be could be caused by flu or an allergy. But if these symptoms persist it is important to get tested to rule out a mesothelioma diagnosis. Especially if you have any reason to suspect you were regularly exposed to asbestos at any point in your life.
Mesothelioma is a vicious form of cancer caused by breathing in microscopic particles of asbestos dust. One of the most frightening aspects of mesothelioma is that it can remain dormant for years – even decades. Once a person develops symptoms, mesothelioma is swift and lethal. Treatment can help prolong life. To get treatment, a mesothelioma diagnosis is needed.
Mesothelioma Diagnosis Starts With a Physical Exam
The first step in a mesothelioma diagnosis is a thorough physical exam and medical history. This is usually done by your primary care physician and not a specialist. During this exam it is important to discuss your symptoms, medical history and work history. Don’t forget to mention all of your asbestos exposure!
By using basic diagnostic tools such as a stethoscope, your doctor can check for fluid around the lungs, heart or in the abdomen – all possible sites where mesothelioma may develop. Even if your doctor detects a fluid build-up in one of these areas and thinks mesothelioma may be present, you likely will not receive an official mesothelioma diagnosis at that visit. You probably will be referred to an oncologist or pulmonologist if detailed imaging tests turn up any positive findings.
Determining a Mesothelioma Diagnosis Requires Medical Imaging
A mesothelioma diagnosis requires not just one type of medical imaging test but several to confirm this serious illness. Each positive result functions as a green light signaling your doctor to move forward towards a mesothelioma diagnosis.
Chest x-ray: This is typically the first imaging test done in a mesothelioma diagnosis. If the x-ray reveals changes in the lungs or the lung membranes or fluid between the lungs and the chest wall, mesothelioma may be present.
CT scan: Short for computed tomography, a CT scan uses a rotating camera to take multiple x-ray images from different angles while you lie on a narrow table. The scanner itself resembles a large donut that the table moves through while the images are made. A computer combines the images to help provide a more precise tool for mesothelioma diagnosis. In addition, a CT scan can also detect whether the mesothelioma has spread to other organs. This helps determine whether or not surgery is a possible treatment.
Echocardiogram: This test uses sound waves as a way to determine a mesothelioma diagnosis in the lining of the heart. The technician moves the instrument around the part of the chest where the heart is located so that it can pick up sound waves that will identify the presence of fluid.
PET scan: Positron emission tomography relies on the injection of a mix of low level radioactive fluid with sugar to help confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis. Because cancer cells grow so rapidly, they like sugar to fuel their growth. The radioactive component of the injected mixture highlights where in the body the sugar is being more quickly absorbed than other areas. These are usually cancerous areas. A PET scan can help a doctor see whether a thickening in the lining of the lungs or heart seen on a CT scan is mesothelioma or merely scar tissue.
MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging called MRI for short deliver images of highly active areas inside the body using magnets and radio waves. An abnormally high level of activity usually designates the presence of a growing tumor. MRI scans also can help show the exact location and extent of a tumor because of the highly detailed images of soft tissue they provide. This can help with a mesothelioma diagnosis.
Mesothelioma Diagnosis Confirmation with Biopsies and Body Fluid Tests
A mesothelioma diagnosis often is confirmed by directly going into the body and removing a tiny sample of fluid or tissue. This tissue sample is then subjected to careful scrutiny and analysis in a pathology lab. A doctor will look at the tissue sample cells under a microscope to see whether they contain cancer cells. Special tests are done to determine whether it is mesothelioma or another type of cancer. If there is a mesothelioma diagnosis, the doctor can also tell what type of mesothelioma it is, based on the patterns of cells seen in the microscope. Mesothelioma is usually classified as epithelioid, sarcomatoid, or mixed/biphasic.
Here are some of the different types of biopsy procedures used for a mesothelioma diagnosis:
Needle biopsies: A long hollow needle inserted into the chest is used to withdraw a small tissue sample from a tumor. These tests are not very invasive but unfortunately also may not remove a large enough tissue sample for a mesothelioma diagnosis to be accurately made.
Endoscopic biopsies: These biopsies are the most widely used tool for a mesothelioma diagnosis. A long thin tube with a light and a lens or video camera is used to look inside the body and remove tissue from suspected mesothelioma areas. They require incisions and are done under anesthesia in an operating room. Thoracoscopy is done inside the chest. It enables samples also to be taken from nearby lymph nodes to check whether the cancer has spread. Laparoscopy is the biopsy procedure that looks inside the abdomen and biopsy any possible tumors in that area.
Open surgical biopsy: If a mesothelioma diagnosis is still uncertain, this more invasive type of biopsy may be used. It involves the removal of a larger section of tissue that can be analyzed.
Blood tests: Getting a blood sample to test for a mesothelioma diagnosis can be a much simpler laboratory procedure than many of the ones mentioned above. Blood tests for mesothelioma look for certain proteins and other components that are known to be in the blood of people who have mesothelioma. These blood tests may provide an additional confirmation but they are not considered reliable enough to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis by themselves.
Mesothelioma Diagnosis Follow-up
If a mesothelioma diagnosis is confirmed, the next steps are to discuss treatment options with your pulmonologist . You should also meet with the financial person on the medical team who can provide help dealing with your medical insurance and make you aware of financial assistance options. Consider also meeting with an attorney who specializes in asbestos litigation to find out whether you may have a case – this could help cover medical bills and other family expenses during the case.