Diagnosing Mesothelioma: How Can You Identify its Stages?

Diagnosing Mesothelioma Early On

Though there is no one clear path to a mesothelioma diagnosis for each patient, it is very important that this rare disease is caught in its early stages of development. After possible exposure to asbestos, seeing your primary care physician for possible testing is the best chance to confirm or deny the contraction of the disease.

Symptoms of Mesothelioma

Symptoms of the disease are late arrivals, only becoming noticeable when the cancer is in the later stages of development. This is why testing after possible exposure to asbestos is critical. Symptoms include a dry cough or wheezing, dyspnea or shortness of breath, complications breathing, fever or night sweats, fatigue, muscles weakness, pain in the chest and/or abdomen, and pleural effusion or fluid around the lungs. Preliminary symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath appear in the third or fourth stage of the disease’s development when tumors begin to press against the chest wall and abdominal cavity. Secondary symptoms include increased pain, anemia, weight loss, loss of appetite, and difficulty breathing, swallowing, and bowel movements.

Testing from Primary Care Physician

Testing for this disease is a long, complex process that involves multiple stages of tests from numerous physicians and specialists. The battery of tests for Mesothelioma is completed in an average of 89 days. Being that the preliminary symptoms of this disease are similar to a number of other illnesses, there is a long list of tests that must be completed before confirmation of diagnosis. Your primary care physician will order an X-ray to determine the amount of fluid in your lungs then prescribe an antibiotic for pneumonia and/or drain fluid in lungs, however, no cancer cells will be detected in the fluid. After a follow-up X-ray has shown more fluid the doctor will most likely order a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan, and a Computed Tomography (CT) scan. If scans show underlying cause, the patient is referred to a specialist.

Testing from a Specialist/Surgeon

Once referred to a specialist it may take 10-15 days to make an appointment and schedule a biopsy. The biopsy is done via Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) and usually requires a minimum of three days in the hospital. VATS is a minimally invasive surgical technique that uses a tiny camera called a thoracoscope and other surgical tools. These tools are inserted into your chest cavity via a tiny incision in your chest wall. Results of the biopsy and lab work ordered by a specialist may take up to 10 days to diagnose. Even though in some cases mesothelioma can be diagnosed by any one of the scans ordered by the physician or specialist, the most accurate and definitive form of testing is a biopsy.

Signs Mesothelioma has Spread

Mesothelioma usually does not spread distantly throughout the body, normally spreading throughout the chest or abdominal cavity. Common signs that cancer has spread include Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), Laryngeal nerve palsy (hoarseness), Horner’s syndrome (nerve damage to face), Nerve damage to the arm, and Superior vena cava syndrome (obstruction in superior vena cava).