Mesothelioma Diagnosis

A mesothelioma diagnosis can be very discouraging for patients who have unknowingly developed the disease. In most cases, receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis will take several visits to different doctors, spanning over several months.

The nature of mesothelioma and the difficulty in diagnosing it is one of the reasons why it is necessary for individuals who worked with asbestos to provide a complete occupational history to their doctors. Experts have deemed that even a brief exposure to the toxic mineral can result in the development of mesothelioma.

Achieving a Diagnosis

When someone begins experiencing symptoms that may be connected with mesothelioma, an appointment is made to see a family doctor or general practitioner. However, because the early symptoms are quite common and often associated with other, less serious conditions, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics or over-the-counter pain killers meant to address an infection like pneumonia, bronchitis, or some other respiratory illness. The patient, when confronted with symptoms that do not subside despite the medication, will most likely schedule a follow-up appointment for further examination.

Diagnostic Tests for Mesothelioma

Once the doctor is attuned to the fact that the patient was exposed to asbestos or suspects that the symptoms may indicate more than just a common infection, he or she may take this opportunity to conduct additional tests. Diagnostic testing will be used to confirm a diagnosis of mesothelioma, to determine its location and size, and to view the extent of any metastases.

  • Chest X-Ray – A simple chest x-ray is generally the first diagnostic test ordered by a doctor. This x-ray can provide some preliminary information but will most likely be followed by a more sophisticated imaging test.
  • CT Scan – The CT (computed axial tomography) Scan, developed in the 1970s, uses an x-ray generating device that rotates around the body, producing a series of pictures. Beams of radiation are directed towards a particular portion of the body and the detailed pictures or “slices” produced by the machine can help doctors determine the extent of the damage. CT scans are painless but might require the patient to drink or be injected with a contrast dye, which can cause an allergic reaction. Technicians are trained to spot adverse reactions immediately.
  • MRI – Magnetic Resonance Imaging is one of the most sophisticated imaging devices available to doctors. It produces images even more detailed than those from a CT scan. It does not use radiation but rather radio waves, which are safer for the patient. The radio waves produce images that show thin slices of the body in great detail. The MRI is painless but may or may not demand the use of a non-iodine contrast die known as gandolinium. It remains one of the best tools available for diagnosing cancer and pinpointing its location.

Other Tests

Once the doctor is fairly certain that mesothelioma is present, he or she will order additional tests to further confirm the diagnosis. These are generally fluid- or tissue-related tests and may include:

  • Biopsy – A biopsy for mesothelioma usually includes using a fine needle to aspirate a small amount of fluid that has gathered in affected locations, including the pleural membrane for those who are suspected of having pleural mesothelioma. A local anesthetic may be used and recovery time is minimal.
  • Thoracoscopy – Similar to the biopsy, a thoracoscopy includes taking a tissue rather than a fluid sample. A small incision is made for this test and local anesthesia is used. Recovery time is minimal. If peritoneal mesothelioma is suspected, a laparoscopy (a similar test) may be used instead.
  • Mediastinoscopy – Because mesothelioma is often diagnosed when it has reached Stage 3 or 4, this test is performed to determine whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.

After the Diagnosis

Once a mesothelioma diagnosis is determined, the patient will be referred to an oncologist and perhaps a thoracic surgeon, who will determine the best course of treatment. The patient should gather all the information possible about the disease in order to make informed decisions about treatment options. The mesothelioma patient may also want to consider speaking to a counselor, psychologist or trusted clergy member who can help in dealing with the diagnosis from a mental health angle.