For too many patients, routine checkups result in a cancer diagnosis. If you’ve been exposed to asbestos and you inform your doctor of that fact, they will follow a series of steps to determine if you’ve developed a specific form of cancer called mesothelioma. Diagnosing mesothelioma is challenging, but with the right tests and medical knowledge, it can be done. The sooner your condition is diagnosed, the sooner you’ll be able to implement a treatment plan and focus on maintaining your way of life.
Understanding the Diagnostic Process
If you’re experiencing pain, discomfort, or other unexplained symptoms, it’s important to head to the doctor’s for an evaluation. You’ll want to have a detailed list of your symptoms ready for your doctor, so they have as much information as possible upfront. Depending on what you tell them and the results of your evaluation, they may schedule a series of different tests to determine if you have mesothelioma. Because of how rare the cancer is, however, it’s unlikely that it will be the first diagnosis they jump to.
It’s not uncommon for an official mesothelioma diagnosis to take up to three months. After your initial evaluation, the doctor will likely order an X-ray to rule out pneumonia—especially if there is fluid buildup in your lungs. If they suspect pneumonia, they may prescribe an antibiotic for a two-week period and take another X-ray after. Reevaluation typically occurs 30 days later.
If there is still fluid in the long after a month, the doctor will likely drain the fluid and order a PET scan and a CT scan. Blood tests are also a possibility. If imaging scans show the potential for mesothelioma, you will be referred to a surgeon for a biopsy. This process can take approximately two weeks and the surgery itself will likely require a one- to three-day stay in the hospital. Biopsies are usually video-assisted thoracoscopic surgeries. Results can take up to ten days. If you have mesothelioma, the biopsy will confirm the positive test results. From there, the doctor will focus on implementing a treatment plan.
Testing for Mesothelioma
As mentioned, multiple tests are conducted to diagnose mesothelioma. If you’re being evaluated for the condition, you’re likely to experience a number of these tests—if not all of them. Let’s take a look at each one.
Imaging scans can identify the location of tumors. Radiologists perform the tests and results can take days or weeks to get.
- X-Rays. These produce basic images that can show various densities inside the body. A tumor or fluid would appear on an X-ray as something abnormal.
- CT Scans. Also known as a CAT scan, this imaging test uses computer software to integrate hundreds of fine X-ray images to create a more detailed image of a body’s internal structures.
- PET Scans. A PET scan is essentially a CT scan where the patient receives an intravenous dose of radioactive glucose. This makes inflamed cells light up on the scan. Cell inflammation can be a sign of cancer.
- MRIs. MRIs generate precise images using electromagnetic technology. They are useful when looking at abnormalities in bones, nerves, and brain tissue.
Blood Tests and Biomarkers
Mesothelioma blood tests are typically conducted to measure how a patient is responding to treatment. Blood tests and biomarkers, however, are not accurate enough to diagnose cancer alone.
- MESOMARK. This FDA-approved test detects soluble mesothelin-related peptide.
- SOMAmer. This test detects when there are more than 1,000 proteins in blood serum. The proteins can help identify the presence of mesothelioma.
- Human MPF. This test measures a protein called megakaryocyte potentiation factor.
A biopsy is the only way to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis. After the biopsy is completed by a surgeon, the sample is sent away to pathology to identify the cells and determine if they’re cancerous.
- Thoracoscopy. This is the most accurate test for diagnosing mesothelioma. While the patient is under general anesthesia, the surgeon inserts a small camera between the ribs to suction out the fluid and take images of the inside of the chest.
- Mediastinoscopy. With this biopsy procedure, the surgeon inserts a small camera at the base of the neck to obtain samples of the lymph nodes. The patient is placed under general anesthesia.
- Fine-Needle Aspiration. This procedure is done with local anesthesia. A small needle is inserted between the ribs to sample tumors while the patient in having a CT scan performed.
- Endobronchial Ultrasound-Guided Biopsy. This type of biopsy is useful when diagnosing pleural mesothelioma when other biopsy techniques can’t obtain a tumor sample.
Challenges in Diagnosing Mesothelioma
Because mesothelioma is so rare, there are a number of challenges that come with diagnosing the condition. Doctor may have issues with misdiagnosis, staging the cancer, and providing a prognosis.
Sometimes, mesothelioma is misdiagnosed as a less serious disease or a different type of cancer. This is often because the initial symptoms of mesothelioma can resemble other conditions. For example, pleural mesothelioma may be diagnosed as pneumonia or heart failure, peritoneal mesothelioma may be diagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome, and pericardial mesothelioma may be diagnosed as coronary heart disease.
Staging defines how far the cancer has progressed. It’s often the biggest factor when trying to determine what the best course of treatment is. Doctor may have difficulty staging if they’re uncertain of when the person was initially exposed to asbestos or the substance the caused their cancer. In general, there are two types of staging: clinical and surgical. Clinical staging refers to the imaging tests discussed above, while surgical staging involves the biopsies.
Once a diagnosis has been made, the patient will likely want to know their prognosis, i.e. their potential outcome. A prognosis is a predication what will occur during treatment and what a person’s life expectancy is. Because the cancer is so rare, it’s challenging to accurately predict how the cancer will react to treatment. Doctors often base prognoses on the cancer’s stage, location, and cell type.
If you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you have the right to seek a second opinion. Once you’ve received two confirmations, it’s important to understand the recommended treatment plan and begin implementation immediately. It’s also an important time to build a support network with your loved ones, family members, and friends. Receiving a cancer diagnosis can seem like the end of the world, but having a strong support system will make tackling the challenges easier.
Contact Frost Law Firm, PC
If you believe your cancer diagnosis is related to an occupational hazard, like asbestos exposure, you may be able to take legal action. When you work with a Hawaii mesothelioma lawyer from Frost Law Firm, PC, we’ll be able to determine your legal rights and options and help you decide how best to proceed based on your unique circumstance.
If you choose to file a claim, we’ll fight to ensure you receive the compensation you need to take care of past, present, and future losses related to your diagnosis. Contact us today for more information.