The early symptoms of mesothelioma are often similar to that of a common cold or flu. Early symptoms of pleural mesothelioma, for example, may include a cough, fever, pain in the chest/back, fatigue, or weight loss. The link between these kinds of symptoms and a possible diagnosis of mesothelioma is a history of working with or around products containing asbestos fibers.
Unfortunately, early detection of this cancer can be challenging due to the long latency period between exposure and diagnosis, which can take decades. Even when early screening tests are performed, the tumors may be too small to detect, leading to a false sense of hope for patients. Despite these challenges, there are tests available for mesothelioma screening, including chest x-rays and CT scans, and researchers are exploring screening in high-risk populations.
In this article, we'll discuss the screening and diagnosis of mesothelioma, including what to expect from the screening process and the types of tests available.
Why Early Mesothelioma Detection is Difficult
Early detection of mesothelioma is a challenging task, primarily due to the long latency period between exposure and diagnosis. This cancer is also relatively rare—early screening is most effective for cancers with a higher prevalence rate. Many mesothelioma patients remain undiagnosed for decades after exposure, which of course makes early screening difficult. Another complications stems from early screenings that may not detect small tumors.
Mesothelioma symptoms are often similar to other respiratory diseases, such as pneumonia or asthma, making diagnosis more challenging. As a result, patients may not receive a diagnosis until the cancer has reached a later stage, which can significantly impact their treatment options and chances of survival.
Current Research into Early Detection
Despite efforts to improve early detection, several studies have yielded little success in identifying mesothelioma at an early stage. Ongoing research is exploring new diagnostic techniques and methods for early detection, such as biomarker testing and imaging technologies. However, further investigation is needed to determine their effectiveness in identifying mesothelioma at an early stage.
Researchers have also begun to look into mesothelioma screenings in high-risk populations; however, there is some debate as to the merits of these tests. Several studies have examined the benefits of screening populations in industrialized countries where asbestos would have been used. Early detection can be important to help extend the quality of life of the patient and increase the effectiveness of therapy. There are several variables used to determine a person’s eligibility for early screening including a long history of asbestos exposure, latency period, and current lung function.
How Mesothelioma is Diagnosed
Mesothelioma can be difficult to diagnose, so your doctor may perform several different exams or tests.
A medical history, including your risk factors, such as asbestos exposure, as well as a physical exam to assess your symptoms, will likely be taken first. If, based on these evaluations, your doctor thinks mesothelioma is a potential cause, other tests may be performed.
A chest x-ray is normally the first test performed after a physical exam. An x-ray can detect signs of lung changes; however, spots or changes in the lungs may or may not be due to an asbestos-related condition, so other tests will probably be needed. Another common test is a computer tomography, otherwise known as a CT scan. This is often used when chest x-ray results are inconclusive. A CT takes more detailed images and can help find the exact location of the possible cancer.
What Happens After Screening & Tests
If the symptoms and image tests suggest you have mesothelioma, your doctor will need to gather cells from the abnormal area for further analysis. If there is a buildup of fluid in the body, a sample of this fluid may be obtained. Once the fluid is extracted, it will be tested for cancer cells. More specialized testing will be performed to determine the cancer type if cancerous cells are found. If no cancer cells are found, it does not mean cancer is not present. Your doctor may need to obtain tissue samples to determine if you have a cancer such as mesothelioma.
In order to obtain tissues, a biopsy will need to be performed. A biopsy is similar to fluid removal; however, instead of removing fluid, actual tissue will be taken. There are two different types of biopsies. The first is a needle biopsy, where a hollow needle is used to obtain a small tissue sample. The other type of biopsy is an endoscopic biopsy where a tube-like device is used to look for and remove tissue samples from the body.
Once these samples are obtained, they will be sent to a lab for testing and analysis. It is at this point that a definitive diagnosis can be made. If mesothelioma is diagnosed, there are a number of treatment options you can discuss with your doctor.
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, fill out our free case evaluation to learn about your legal options.