Mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lung and other internal organs, is difficult to diagnose because its symptoms are similar to other diseases.
Typically, if it is pleural mesothelioma, the patient presents to the Emergency Room with shortness of breath which turns out to be a result of excess fluid between the lung and the pleura (lining of the lung).
This excess fluid is not limited to the lung, and can occur in the abdominal cavity in the case of peritoneal mesothelioma.
If you have worked with asbestos or have experienced any mesothelioma symptoms it is important to talk to your doctor about the possibility of an asbestos-related disease, or mesothelioma diagnosis.
Many of the symptoms of mesothelioma and asbestosis are common to other ailments. That is why it is important to tell your doctor about all possible past exposure to asbestos at work and at home.
Physical: After taking a complete medical history, your doctor will perform a complete physical exam, paying special attention to any sign of fluid in the chest, abdomen, or heart. This fluid build up can be a sign of mesothelioma.
Imaging tests: Next the physician will order imaging tests to get an inside look at the problem areas. These may include x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, or PET scans.
A blood test may be done to look for a protein (osteopontin) that is linked to mesothelioma.
Biopsies: The doctor may use a needle to extract tissue or fluid. A pathologist will study the sample to determine if cancer is present. Samples of a tumor can be taken through a minimally invasive procedure, called endoscopy. A thin, lighted tube with a video camera on it allows the surgeon to see the mass as well as extract a sample of it. Traditional surgery may also be used to remove part or all of a tumor. The pathologist then looks at the tissue under a microscope, and will stain the slides in order to determine if the patient has mesothelioma.
Staging: If a biopsy leads to a mesothelioma diagnosis, the next step is to determine the stage of the disease. If the cancer is found only in one site, it is said to be localized. Cancer that has spread, or metastasized, to other sites is classified as advanced.
Surgery: If the cancer is localized, surgery to remove the cancer is possible. An extrapleural pneumonectomy is where the physician removes the lung, the lining of the lung, the diaphragm and the lining of the heart. A pneumonectomy is where all or part of the affected lung is removed. A pleurectomy is another available surgery where the lining of the lung is removed. For peritoneal mesothelioma, a cytoreductive is available for some patients. None of these are considered cures, but they do typically extend the patient’s life.
Chemotherapy and Radiation: While these are available, and are often used in conjunction with the above surgeries, they are also not cures of the disease, but merely meant to extend the patient’s life.