As with any cancer, the diagnosis process for mesothelioma can be complicated and long. There are many ways through which the disease can be diagnosed depending on the types of symptoms the patient exhibits, the health of the patient, and the results of earlier tests. Unfortunately, the symptoms of mesothelioma may vary, leading to misdiagnosis and other issues. While it is important to catch aggressive cancers like mesothelioma promptly, individuals in the early stages of the disease often exhibit no symptoms at all. For these reasons, it is important that anyone exposed to asbestos be aware of how this dangerous disease is diagnosed.
What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that occurs in the lining of the organs, specifically the heart, stomach, and lungs. Numerous studies and a substantial amount of research have confirmed that mesothelioma cancer is caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a naturally occurring fiber that can become lodged in the lungs, where it remains, irritating the organs and sometimes causing the development of cancerous tumors.
Symptoms of Mesothelioma
The symptoms of mesothelioma often include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest and back pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Abnormal sweating
- Weight loss
- Swelling of the face and arms.
If you or someone you know experiences these symptoms, especially after he or she has been exposed to asbestos, seek medical attention immediately.
Diagnosis of Mesothelioma: The Process
Unfortunately, the common nature of these symptoms often leads to misdiagnoses or could lead to a very late detection, at which point the cancer may have reached advanced stages. When someone visits their doctor for any of the above mentioned symptoms of mesothelioma, the doctor should administer an exam. During this exam, the doctor will likely examine the patient’s breathing and administer a complete physical to check for additional issues or irregularities.
During the physical, the doctor will typically ask about any health issues in the family, existing conditions, or other histories of health problems that could explain the patient’s symptoms. The doctor will also ask the patient if he or she has been exposed to asbestos. In some cases, patients may have knowingly been exposed to asbestos, but sometimes they may be completely unaware or exposure.
X-ray or CAT Scan
After completing a physical exam, the doctor will likely order an X-ray or CAT scan, which medical technicians can examine for any fluid in the chest indicating the development of mesothelioma. If there is anything abnormal in these scans, such as lining thickening, the doctor will likely order an MRI scan or PET scans for more detailed images of the affected tissues. If it has been determined that the patient does indeed have mesothelioma, the doctors can then use these scans to estimate what stage the cancer has reached. Earlier stages will exhibit a small area of affected tissue, whereas later stages will often see a spread in the tumors. Next, the doctor must determine whether or not the tumors or affected tissues viewed in the scans are cancerous.
When the doctors have run enough tests to get a firm grasp of the issue at hand, they may also order a biopsy. A biopsy procedure is when a doctor will take a small tissue or fluid sample from the affected area and run it through tests to determine whether or not the sample is cancerous. However, some doctors have successfully used blood tests to determine whether or not a patient had mesothelioma, rather than using the go-to biopsy procedure.
In some cases, doctors may order a laparoscopy. This procedure acts similarly to a biopsy, though it involves the use of a thin tube with a camera attached to the end, which the doctor will move down into the stomach to better examine the affected area. A laparoscopy will not only allow the doctor to take a tissue sample, it will also provide a direct look at the patient’s stomach.
It is also very important to be sure you see a doctor who has worked with mesothelioma patients in the past, especially in the diagnostic stage. Mesothelioma can sometimes be misdiagnosed as other types of lung cancers, and should, therefore, be diagnosed and treated by a doctor with a thorough understanding of the disease. If you are unsure about the diagnoses or you were diagnosed by a doctor who does not specialize in mesothelioma cases, it is highly recommended that you seek a second opinion.
If you were diagnosed with mesothelioma after exposure to asbestos, our firm may be able to help you seek compensation. Contact Shrader & Associates L.L.P. to schedule a consultation with our lawyers.