Screening for Mesothelioma

adult man getting a health screening from his doctor

The early symptoms of mesothelioma are often similar to that of a common cold or flu. Early symptoms of pleural mesothelioma may include a cough, fever, pain in the chest/back, fatigue, or weight loss. The link between these symptoms and a possible diagnosis of mesothelioma is a history of working with or around products containing asbestos fibers. It may be several weeks or months before a patient seeks advice from their doctor regarding their ailments, but early detection can be important to help extend the quality of life of the patient and increase the effectiveness of therapy.

Why Early Detection is Difficult

The difficulty in early detection is the long latency period between exposure and a possible diagnosis of mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is also a very rare form of cancer, and in order for any early screening to be most effective, it usually involves cancer with a higher prevalence rate.

Many of those who have mesothelioma do not get a diagnosis until decades after exposure. This makes early screening nearly impossible, as the cancer does not develop for some time. In early screenings, the tumors may be too small to detect. These tests may give patients a false sense of hope for a cancer-free future. Several studies have also yielded little results in catching an early diagnosis of mesothelioma. 

How Mesothelioma is Diagnosed

Chest x-rays and CT scans are the most common diagnostic tools for determining a diagnosis of lung cancer or mesothelioma. Once the cancer has developed, it's often three to six months before diagnosis. This is also related to the difficulty in interpreting early symptoms and that long latency period. 

Researchers have 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.

Mesothelioma can be difficult to diagnosis, 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.

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. If cancerous cells are found, more specialized testing will be performed to determine the cancer type. 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 where a definitive diagnosis can be made. If mesothelioma is diagnosed there are a number of treatment options you can discuss with your doctor.

While it is always important to speak to your doctor about your concerns regarding your health, more research will be needed for preventive screenings for mesothelioma.

For questions about mesothelioma or asbestos lawsuits, contact Cooney and Conway today.