Mesothelioma Diagnosis

How Is Mesothelioma Diagnosed?

Mesothelioma Is Difficult To Diagnose

Mesothelioma is not easy to diagnose.  Consequently, the diagnostic process is often lengthy.  This is a function of the rare nature of this cancer.  Due to the relatively few cases of mesothelioma in the United States per year, most doctors have very limited experience with the disease.  Experienced physicians often do not initially contemplate mesothelioma as a possible diagnosis.  Moreover, the differences between lung cancer and malignant pleural mesothelioma may not initially be apparent.

The common symptoms of mesothelioma correspond to the symptoms of less serious conditions or ailments.  Routinely, a victim who is subsequently diagnosed with mesothelioma sees a doctor because the person experiences shortness of breath, loss of weight, chronic fatigue, or chest or abdominal pain.  However it is apparent that each of these symptoms can result from many other diseases.

Also, it is difficult for doctors to initially diagnose malignant mesothelioma because typically patients have suffered from the symptoms for weeks or months prior to seeking medical care.  This makes it critically important for you or a loved one to inform the treating physician that there has been prior exposure to asbestos.  This provides an immediate flag to your doctor that he or she should explore the possibility that you are at risk for mesothelioma

Mesothelioma Caused by Asbestos Exposure

Once your doctor determines that mesothelioma is a potential diagnosis, he or she will commence a thorough medical history, with an eye toward evaluating risk factors.  Typically, the doctor will pose queries with respect to your occupational history.  The emphasis, of course, will be on any history of asbestos exposure on the job.

Many times patients are unsure or cannot recall whether they have been exposed to asbestos.  This is because Navy veterans, shipyard workers, mechanics, and construction workers (to name but a few professions) were unaware that they worked on or around asbestos-containing products.  The difficulty is compounded because the work often occurred decades ago.  It is perfectly sensible to inform your doctor that you are unsure or cannot recall specific instances of exposure to asbestos.  But it is important that you do not automatically or categorically respond “No” – meaning that you have never been exposed to asbestos.  A lot of times, individuals just do not know.  This is especially true in the situations involving household or bystander exposure.  Also, you should be cognizant that exposures can be “occult.”  This does not mean “magical” but in this context simply connotes circumstances that are unknown or forgotten.

Exposures to Asbestos Vary Widely

Asbestos was used in thousands of products.  Exposure to asbestos is not uniform.  It occurs in numerous situations and circumstances.  Oftentimes it is thought that only individuals who worked directly with asbestos products inhaled deadly asbestos dust.  However, many exposures to asbestos diverge greatly from the obvious occupational and work environments associated with asbestos exposure.  For example, medical researchers have documented numerous cases where the wives and children of men who worked with or around asbestos contracted mesothelioma.  These family members were exposed to asbestos fibers from the asbestos that was carried home by their loved ones on work clothes.  This phenomenon is commonly known as household exposure.

Bystander exposure is another indirect method of becoming exposed to asbestos and afflicted with mesothelioma.  In this situation, workers at a jobsite are exposed to asbestos fibers when other workers undertake work with asbestos products.

It bears emphasis that it is crucial to share information with your doctor pertaining to possible asbestos exposure, as well as to not automatically foreclose the possibility of asbestos exposure because you are unsure.  This understanding is important to a proper and expeditious diagnosis.  After all, asbestos is the indisputable link to and primary risk factor for mesothelioma.

Diagnostic Tests for Mesothelioma

Following an analysis of your medical history, which will include your occupational history, your doctor will typically perform a complete physical examination.  The exam will likely include basic chest and abdomen x-rays.  Additional radiological tests may also be undertaken.  These tests include CT scans, MRI’s, or PET scan.

Patients who experience symptoms associated with mesothelioma often have significant amounts of fluid in the chest or abdomen.  The doctor will likely remove fluid with a syringe for testing purposes.  These cells are examined by a pathologist under a microscope to look for cancerous cells.  If cancer cells are present, the doctor will likely want a biopsy performed.  This involves the removal of a small amount of tissue from the suspected cancerous site.  This tissue is also examined by a pathologist who then can make a final diagnosis.

It is important to begin the diagnostic process as soon as mesothelioma is suspected.  This cancer is easier to treat if it is detected in the early stages.  Be sure to see your doctor as soon as possible if you have ever been exposed to asbestos on the job, in your household, or in your neighborhood, and you are suffering from any of the symptoms of mesothelioma.