Since symptoms of mesothelioma are non-specific, meaning these symptoms could be associated with other forms of diseases, diagnosing this form of cancer is often not easy. Due to lack of awareness of this fatal form of cancer a timely mesothelioma diagnosis cannot be accomplished.
Unfortunately, mesothelioma is mistaken for other forms of diseases since mesothelioma symptoms mimic those of more common conditions. For instance, pleural mesothelioma could be mistaken for pneumonia or peritoneal mesothelioma might be qualified as a common bowel disorder.
Because the latency period, diagnosing mesothelioma immediately is not always possible. Symptoms of this form of cancer only appear after 30 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos.
When symptoms are already at the onset it is important that the patient immediately checks with a physician. A detailed enumeration of symptoms and experiences of pain must be done. He or she must also share his case history of work experience or if possible, share the case history of those he/she has resided with. This must be done to check if the patient was exposed to asbestos. The doctor must also find out the timeframe of exposure.
The doctor will ask the patient to subject himself to a series of tests. Some of which are the following:
This is the preliminary step in diagnosing mesothelioma. When a doctor suspects mesothelioma in the lungs he would advise the patient to get a chest x-ray. X-rays cannot normally show mesothelioma but it can show the following: pleural effusions (or collection of fluid around the lung), pleural thickening (thickening of the lining of the lung) and pleural-based masses (masses extending from the lung lining). A person suspected of peritoneal mesothelioma will be asked to get an abdominal x-ray.
CT SCAN (Computed Topography)
This type of scan is especially useful in determining the location, size, and extent of mesothelioma. This gives a more detailed picture of the insides of the body compared to x-rays. Combining x-rays and computers, CT scans has a rotating beam that takes a series of pictures of the body in different angles. This scan allows the radiologist to have a clearer view of the lungs and pleura.
MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
This machine uses a strong magnetic field, radio waves to scan the body. No radiation is involved in this type of test. A computer is used to generate the images of selected areas of the body. This test is used to determine ‘soft tissues’ in the body and it can show the extent of mesothelioma. It is considered to be quite clear and more superior to routine x-rays.
PET SCAN (Positron Emission Tomography)
It uses cameras and tracers that produces powerful images of the body’s biological functions. Cancers process sugars at a very high metabolic rate. PET scans are able to indicate abnormal metabolic activity and can identify exact locations of the diseases. It can also detect small cancer cells, indicate whether it’s benign or malignant. Furthermore, it can determine if therapies are actually working.
A pathologist is performing the biopsy when tissue samples are obtained from areas of the body where cancer is suspected. These samples are examined under a microscope. There are different types of biopsies.
Thoracoscopy is done when the pericardial tumor is detected. Tissue samples are obtained from the chest cavity. When samples are obtained from the abdomen using an instrument called peritoneoscope, it is called peritoneoscopy. Pleural mesothelioma biopsies are called bronchoscopy.