A diagnosis of mesothelioma can be difficult to establish because the cancer may look like a cold. A number of tests and procedures are therefore often necessary to diagnose mesothelioma.
You feel a little dilapidated. There is a cough you can not shake. You have pain in the lower back. You are weak and breathless. These are all small things - probably nothing, right?
But all these vague and relatively minor symptoms can actually lead to a more serious diagnosis than you think - a very rare cancer called mesothelioma.
Diagnosis of mesothelioma: assessment of symptoms and risks
Mesothelioma is an extremely rare type of cancer: fewer than 3,000 new cases are diagnosed each year in the United States. This is most often the membrane lining the chest cavity and lungs, called pleural mesothelioma. Less frequently, it involves other membranes that line other parts of the body, such as the abdominal lining (called peritoneal mesothelioma).
Subtle respiratory symptoms may not automatically suggest cancer for you or your doctor. But if you have these symptoms for some time - especially if you have been exposed to asbestos in the past - tests to diagnose mesothelioma are probably needed to determine if this is the cause.
Diagnosis of mesothelioma: Can X-rays diagnose this cancer?
Once the doctor has taken his complete medical history, x-rays are done. Mesothelioma most often strikes the lungs and chest. The chest x-ray is one of the simplest tests to diagnose cancer. An X-ray can identify any fluid accumulated in the lungs and sometimes catch accumulations of calcium in the lungs, warning signs of pleural mesothelioma or cancer of the membrane, called pleura, which lines the lungs. Although a radiograph can detect some cases of mesothelioma, a negative X-ray does not exclude mesothelioma. Other tests may be needed to obtain more information.
Mesothelioma Diagnosis: Scans
If the X-ray is unclear or shows warning signs of mesothelioma, more detailed tests can be performed. These scanning tests are often ordered to get a better picture of what is happening in the lungs and chest cavity:
MRI A magnetic resonance imaging test is one of the most accurate tools for diagnosing mesothelioma. This large machine uses magnets and radio waves to provide doctors with multidimensional images inside the body. It is particularly effective for detecting lung tumors. It is therefore often the best option to try to diagnose mesothelioma.
To scan. A computer tomography looks like a more complex x-ray that provides a better picture. This machine rotates around the body, providing a clear and detailed picture of the different sections of the lungs and other areas of the chest.
PET scan. A positron emission tomography provides another detailed view of the inside of the body, this time using a radioactive glucose material injected that will be absorbed by a tumor and can be detected with the imaging device.
Diagnosis of mesothelioma: close examination
Scanning tests may provide a clearer picture than a simple x-ray, but doctors need a sample of fluid or tissue from a suspicious area to determine if mesothelioma is really the cause of the results. The tests that can be done to diagnose mesothelioma include:
Tissue samples from the lungs or pleural membrane lining the chest cavity
Liquid samples from the area surrounding the lungs (or the abdomen, if the mesothelioma is about the abdominal lining)
Thoracoscopy, in which a tube and a camera are inserted through the skin and into the chest so that the surgeon can see what is happening and remove a piece of tissue.
Surgery to remove all or part of a tumor to determine the type of cancer cells present
The symptoms of mesothelioma may seem like a mystery because they could really be anything. But doctors need to put together pieces of the puzzle, such as work history and medical history, as well as current symptoms, to make a correct diagnosis. Several different tests can often be done to determine if mesothelioma is to blame and what is the severity of the cancer. From that moment, the treatment team can develop the correct treatment plan.