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How Mesothelioma is Diagnosed

Updated on December 5, 2011
exposure to asbestos causes mesothelioma, an asbestos roof top niente0, morguefile.com
exposure to asbestos causes mesothelioma, an asbestos roof top niente0, morguefile.com

Mesothelioma is a rare form of lung cancer commonly affecting people with a history of being exposed to asbestos. The disease involves the mesothelium, a special protective membrane that covers important internal cavities such as the pleura, peritoneum and pericardium. The most common form of mesothelioma is Pleural Mesothelioma, affecting the respiratory system. Affected patients, therefore develop a series of subtle respiratory problems due to the thickening of the mesothelium and the build up of fluids.

Symptoms suggesting pleural mesothelioma are as follows: a dry cough, bloody sputum,  chest pains, shortness of breath and difficulty swallowing. What makes mesothelioma difficult to diagnose is the fact that symptoms are subtle, and often easily confused with other conditions, but most of all , the fact that generally symptoms arise long after the person has been exposed to asbestos. In many cases, this means that the first symptoms may appear 30 to 50 years after exposure. For this reason, it is vital for a proper diagnosis to always mention exposure to asbestos to the physician when symptoms similar to mesothelioma arise. 

How Mesothelioma is Diagnosed

It is very important therefore, to communicate with the physician and mention exposure to asbestos, even if casual. This can make the difference between being diagnosed correctly or losing time being treated for other conditions causing symptoms similar to mesothelioma. Generally, the first step in diagnosis, is a physical examination. The physician will gather medical history and perform a physical examination.

The next step is getting a set of x-rays. This will provide a view of the lungs and any abnormalities may be seen. However, in order to be visible in an x-ray generally the mesothelium must be significantly thickened, some thing that happens when the disease advances. An MRI may provide a much better view and more details than an average x-ray.

A more accurate diagnosis can be obtained by having the patient undergo a PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scan. In this examination, a glucose solution is injected intravenously and then a scanner is used to detect cancer cells. Because malignant cancer cells consume sugar more than regular cells, this examining tool may be helpful in detecting mesothelioma. 

Another diagnostic tool is a biopsy. In this case, a tissue sample is removed and then observed under a microscope by a specialized pathologist. This test will determine if there is the presence of cancer cells. There are different types of biopsies such as a fine needle aspiration where a small needle is inserted to draw out a sample of fluid., a thoracoscopy, where  a small incision is made in chest to retrieve a tissue sample, or a mediastinoscopy,  a test to view the lymph nodes in order to determine if the cancer has metastasized.

Diagnosing mesothelioma is difficult because of the intrinsic nature of this disease, often confused with much more common conditions.  Once diagnosed, most doctors will try to figure out the stage of the disease so to start a treatment plan. The factors that determine at which stage the disease is, is if the cancer has remained localized or if it has spread to other organs of the body such as the lymph nodes.


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    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 

      8 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      This is a great hub, I do have these symptoms, I was working for disneyland at the time in the executive offices and they put up plastic every where to protect us from the work that was being done ond removing all the asbestoes, it seems to me it took a long time. Thanks for sharing this.

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