- Mesothelioma In Family Members
- Symptoms and Treatment
- Treatment by Stage
- Government Resources
- Mesothelioma Law
Mesothelioma is diagnosed using a combination of medical imaging and tissue biopsy. Typically, the diagnosis of mesothelioma begins when a person complains about mesothelioma symptoms, including:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest or abdominal pain
- Persistent cough
- Night sweats
- Weight loss
- Bowel obstruction
- Foot swelling
As you can see, these symptoms–listed from the most common for pleural mesothelioma, the more common variation of the disease affecting the pleura, the thin coating of tissue that protects the lungs, to the least common–are fairly nonspecific, and overlap with influenza, which can often lead to a delay in diagnosis. If the symptoms are persistent enough, often a doctor will recommend a chest x-ray to check on the possibility of pneumonia.
A chest x-ray will reveal the pleural effusion, the excess fluid effused by the afflicted mesothelial cells of the lung that builds up in the chest cavity around the lungs. Depending on the skill of the doctor or radiologist or the advancement of the disease, pleural plaques, pleural calcification, or asbestosis scarring may be visible.
Computed Tomography (CT) is a technique for assembling a series of precisely targeted x-rays, which effectively sections the body into thin slices of images. These images can then be reassembled into a 3-dimensional picture of the body. It is also known as computed axial tomography or CAT scan. CT is useful in detecting not only pleural effusion, but pleural thickening and calcification. It can also detect thickening of the interlobular fissures and possible spread of the disease to the chest wall. Because its primary sensitivity is to the density of tissue, CT scans cannot tell the difference between mesothelioma and benign asbestos disease or adenocarcinoma of the lungs.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is becoming the gold standard of medical imaging. MRI uses magnetic fields to align the spin states of molecules in the body, then measures their relaxation times. Since the relaxation times are correlated to the composition of material in the body, an image of the tissue composition can be constructed by studying the relaxation rates of body tissues. Unlike x-rays and CT, there is no harmful radiation involved in an MRI, and the sensitivity to tissue changes is much greater. It is often used in evaluating a candidate for surgery, or tracking the course of treatment via chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
Positron Emission Tomography
Positron Emission Tomography (PET) is an exciting and relatively new technology in body imaging. PET imagery does not image the structures of the body, but, rather, the activity of those structures. In PET, a patient receives an injection of a radioactive glucose analog (fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG)), which the body distributes as though it were sugar, transporting it to cells that are metabolically active. Since cancer cells are hyperactive, they show up as spots of high activity, making them very visible. The radiation dose from a PET is about equivalent to 2 x-rays or about 1/25 as much as a CT scan.
A biopsy is the removal of tissue from the body in order to analyze it and determine whether it is cancerous or noncancerous. Sometimes, a needle biopsy is conducted, that is, a tiny column of tissue is extracted from a lesion suspected as cancerous. However, this is sometimes inadequate to determine the exact type of cancer, an open pleural biopsy may be conducted. In this procedure, a small incision is made in the chest wall, and a thorascope (i.e. chest-viewer) is inserted, and is used to extract a slice of tissue from the suspected cancer. This tissue is then analyzed and its nature determined.
With biopsy and imaging, the precise nature of the tumor can be determined, and a course of treatment recommended.
If you’ve been diagnosed with Mesothelioma, learn more about what you should ask your doctor about Mesothelioma.