Mesothelioma is a severe and usually terminal cancer. It is critical to get a proper diagnosis as soon as possible, so you have more treatment options available to extend your life. If you wait until cancer has spread, your chances of living more than a few months are slim.
Below is more information about how your doctor will test you for mesothelioma.
Medical History and Physical Examination
If you have symptoms of mesothelioma, including shortness of breath, chest pain, and cough, your physician first will perform a physical examination to check for lumps or other abnormal signs of disease. Your doctor will talk to you about your medical history and ask about your symptoms and possible exposure to asbestos.
Your healthcare provider will also do a physical examination to check for other health issues. Pleural mesothelioma usually causes fluid to build up around the lungs; this is called a pleural effusion.
If you have peritoneal mesothelioma, fluid may build up in your abdomen, which is called ascites. In rare cases of pericardial mesothelioma, fluid may build up in the sac that contains the heart. In even rarer cases, mesothelioma can grow in the groin and resemble a hernia.
All of these signs may be found in the physical examination when your mesothelioma doctor listens to these parts of your body with a stethoscope or taps your chest and belly.
Next, the most important step to determine if you have mesothelioma is a biopsy.
A biopsy is a procedure to take out a small amount of tumor for a pathologist to examine it. This is the only way to be certain if you have mesothelioma. The pathologist must check the sample extremely carefully; even at the microscopic level, mesothelioma can look like other types of cancers. Getting the proper mesothelioma diagnosis right away is vital for the appropriate treatment regimen can be assembled.
There are various types of biopsy available, depending on your situation:
- Insert a small needle through the skin: Your physician may remove fluid or a piece of the tumor with a tiny needle inserted through the skin on the chest or abdomen.
- Collect a sample of tissue during operation: A tissue or fluid sample may be collected during surgery. The surgeon can make a small incision and put in a tube with a camera to view the inside of the chest or abdomen. Special surgical tools can be interested to collect the tissue sample.
The biopsy sample is analyzed by a pathologist under a microscope to determine if the tissue is mesothelioma or another type of cancer. If it is mesothelioma, the pathologist also determines the type of cells involved because it affects the treatment plan. (Mayoclinic.org)
Determining the Extent of the Mesothelioma
Next, your doctor may order imaging tests. Imaging tests are useful because they can be used to look for suspicious areas that could be cancerous. They also are helpful to see how far cancer has spread, if treatment is working, and if cancer has returned after treatment. Common imaging tests include: (cancer.org)
- Chest x-ray: This is usually the first imaging test to be done to look for issues in the lungs. Findings that could suggest asbestos cancer are calcium deposits on the pleura, thickening of the pleura, fluid in the space between the chest wall and lungs, and changes in the lungs themselves.
- Computed tomography (CT) scan: A CT scan uses X-rays to make many cross-sectional images of the body. CT scans are used to look for asbestos cancer to find the location of cancer. They also can determine the cancer stage. For example, they can show if cancer has gotten to other organs. This can be helpful to determine if surgery is possible. CT scans can help to see if chemotherapy is being effective.
- Echocardiogram: This is an ultrasound done on the heart. It can be done if your healthcare provider thinks you have fluid building up around the heart. It also will show how well your heart is functioning.
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: This scan uses radioactive sugar that is added to the blood. Because cancer cells grow fast, they absorb more sugar than most other cells. A special camera creates images of radioactive areas of the body. Not that the amount of radioactivity in the sugar is very low and will not harm you. The PET scan images give the doctor a better idea if the thickening of the pleura or peritoneum viewed on the CT scan is cancer or scar tissue.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan: An MRI shows detailed pictures of the soft tissues in your body. This test uses radio waves and magnets rather than x-rays. The MRI can show the exact location and extent of the tumors because it shows highly detailed images of soft tissues.
- Blood tests: Certain substances may be higher in the blood of people with mesothelioma, such as fibulin-3 and soluble mesothelin-related peptides.
Your physician will decide which tests are needed for you; not every patient needs every test. The doctor will use the information from these tests to determine the stage of your mesothelioma. The stages of pleural mesothelioma range from I to IV.
Cancer that is in stage I or II is still localized, and surgery may be possible to remove all visible signs of the tumor. Once the cancer is in the later stages, surgery is more difficult or impossible. The only possibility for treatment in some cases in the later stages is chemotherapy and radiation, or even just palliative treatments to ease pain and symptoms of mesothelioma.
The bottom line is that it is important to get an accurate diagnosis of your cancer as soon as possible, whether it is mesothelioma, lung cancer or something else. The sooner an accurate diagnosis is made, the better your treatment options and prognosis.
Get Mesothelioma Legal Help Immediately
With over $30 billion available for victims through the Asbestos Trust Funds, you could be entitled to financial compensations without ever filing a lawsuit. Mesothelioma & Lung Cancer victims qualify immediately. Complete the form or call us toll-free (800) 352-0871