To provide a diagnosis of mesothelioma, doctors need to perform a variety of tests. Mesothelioma diagnosis tests may include imaging scans, blood tests, and biopsies. Getting an early and accurate diagnosis is incredibly important as patients can then get treatment that may help them live longer. Learn about each of the tests and how you can access resources after a diagnosis of mesothelioma.Get A Free Mesothelioma Guide
How Do Doctors Diagnose Mesothelioma?
To begin to diagnose malignant mesothelioma, doctors will need to observe any initial symptoms, pain, or discomfort.
Early signs and symptoms of mesothelioma may include:
- Chest pain
- Dry and persistent cough
- Shortness of breath
- Unintended weight loss
Doctors will also need to know whether you or a family member have a history of asbestos exposure. Asbestos, a fibrous mineral used heavily as an insulator, is the only known cause of mesothelioma.
Approximately 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year.
After your doctor has explored your medical history and assessed symptoms, they will begin a number of tests to diagnose mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma cancer diagnosis tests include:
- Biopsies, in which cell samples or pieces of tissue are removed from your body so doctors can test them in a lab. A biopsy is the only way to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis.
- Blood tests, which are used to examine or measure biomarkers, or signs of mesothelioma in your blood.
- Imaging tests, which use different types of energy, such as X-rays, to create detailed pictures of your body parts. Imaging scans are typically used before biopsies are taken to rule out other possible health problems.
Working with mesothelioma specialists is incredibly important while seeking a diagnosis. This is because mesothelioma is rare and unique, and the risk of misdiagnosis increases if your doctor is unfamiliar with it.
Need help finding a mesothelioma specialist? Download our Free Mesothelioma Guide or contact our team today.
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Imaging Tests for Diagnosing Mesothelioma
The first step of a mesothelioma diagnosis will be to perform imaging tests. These tests help provide detailed scans of the body so doctors can pinpoint signs of mesothelioma, such as masses, tumors, or even fluid buildup in the lung lining (pleural effusion).
Learn about each type of imaging test for mesothelioma below.
X-rays are often done first when doctors are trying to make a mesothelioma diagnosis. They are a fast and efficient way for doctors to see abnormalities in the body and possible causes of pain and discomfort.
X-rays can show:
- Calcium deposits
- Collagen buildup that forms chalky white lesions or masses in the lungs known as pleural plaques
- Masses and lesions in the heart lining
- Pleural effusions
- Thickened tissue in the lungs or lining of the abdomen
Computed tomography scans, or CT scans, combine a series of X-ray images taken from different angles to create a 3D view of the body’s soft tissues.
More detailed than a typical X-ray, these tests are more successful in locating possible mesothelioma tumors and determining if mesothelioma cells have spread.
Also known as heart sonograms or heart ultrasounds, echocardiograms utilize sound waves to create images of the heart. These images are analyzed to look for any fluid buildup or abnormalities.
Echocardiograms may be particularly useful if a patient might have pericardial mesothelioma (which forms in the heart lining).
A magnetic resonance imaging scan, or an MRI, creates detailed pictures of the tissues and organs in your body. Patients must lay still in a tube-shaped scanner for an hour while the image is created.
Similar to a CT scan, an MRI is helpful in finding the precise location of a tumor and whether surgery is possible.
During a PET scan, or positron emission tomography scan, doctors inject the patient with a small amount of a radioactive drug. Cancer cells absorb this drug faster than healthy cells, allowing them to be easily located during the scan.
Blood Tests for Diagnosing Mesothelioma
In addition to imaging scans, care providers may also use blood tests to see if there are any mesothelioma biomarkers in your body.
“Despite all the advances achieved, a proper diagnosis of [malignant mesothelioma] still represents a challenge for the physician…[Biomarkers] could be useful to increase diagnosis accuracy.”
— Frontiers in Oncology
Learn about common blood tests that can help confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis below.
Research has shown that people with mesothelioma have high levels of SMRP, also known as soluble mesothelin-related peptide.
MESOMARK is a common blood test to measure the SMRP biomarker in the blood. Patients only need to provide a blood sample that is then analyzed with a serum to measure levels of SMRP. MESOMARK is often used in conjunction with other diagnostic tests.
MPF tests detect the presence of megakaryocyte potentiating factor (MPF), a protein present in the blood. Studies have found that mesothelioma patients may have abnormal amounts of MPF in their blood.
Additionally, a 2018 study in JCO Precision Oncology found that MPF could be a predictor of how effective mesothelioma treatment methods will be.
While biomarker tests like these are a great way of helping narrow down if you have mesothelioma, they cannot definitively confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis.
If doctors think you might have mesothelioma after conducting blood tests and/or imaging scans, they’ll order a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. Learn more about getting a diagnosis in our Free Mesothelioma Guide.
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Biopsies for Diagnosing Mesothelioma
Biopsies are the only way to definitively diagnose mesothelioma. A mesothelioma biopsy involves a doctor collecting a fluid or tissue sample from a potentially cancerous tumor or tissue. The sample will then be examined by lab technicians for mesothelioma cells.
There are a variety of biopsies used to diagnose mesothelioma.
Endoscopies involve doctors guiding tiny cameras attached to tube-like structures through a small incision in the body. This not only allows them to take a closer look at possibly cancerous cells but also take tissue samples from the area.
Endoscopies have different names for each location of the biopsy. For example, a thoracoscopy is used to analyze the chest and lungs, and a laparoscopy analyzes the lining of the abdomen.
Fine Needle Biopsies
During a fine needle biopsy, a doctor inserts a thin, long needle through the skin and into the potentially cancerous area. The doctor then uses a syringe to extract fluid and cells for analysis.
Doctors often use fine needle biopsies to gather samples from hard-to-access parts of the body, such as the heart, lymph nodes, and lungs.
Other Biopsies for Mesothelioma
Fine needle biopsies and endoscopies are the most common types of biopsies, but doctors may use other biopsy techniques to diagnose mesothelioma.
Other types of biopsy tests for a mesothelioma diagnosis may include:
- Endobronchial ultrasound needle biopsy: Doctors insert a tube into a sedated patient’s windpipe and lungs to observe the area and collect lymph node tissue samples.
- Mediastinoscopy: Doctors use a tube to guide a needle to the area between the lungs to take a tissue sample.
- Surgical biopsy: Doctors may perform open surgery to remove a biopsy sample for analysis.
Unfortunately, diagnosing mesothelioma can be difficult because many of the symptoms of mesothelioma are similar to other conditions.
As doctors work through tests, they may provide a mesothelioma differential diagnosis. This is a list of the possible health problems, including mesothelioma, that could be causing your symptoms. If a range of tests is not provided, some conditions may not be properly ruled out and thus cause a mesothelioma misdiagnosis.
According to a 2011 study in the Open Epidemiology medical journal, 22.6% of pleural mesothelioma patients are misdiagnosed before receiving an accurate mesothelioma diagnosis.
Mesothelioma can be misdiagnosed as:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Lung cancer
- Ovarian cancer
If you believe you were misdiagnosed, it is important to seek out a mesothelioma specialist who can provide a second opinion. During a second opinion, the mesothelioma specialist will review medical records and test results, and possibly order additional tests before confirming a diagnosis.
Contact our team at (888) 360-2406 for help finding a mesothelioma doctor and cancer center near you.
Diagnosing Different Types of Mesothelioma
Cancer care professionals use different equipment and techniques to diagnose mesothelioma depending on where the cancer is located.
These tests also help determine the overall health of the patient and how far mesothelioma has progressed. Doctors will have a better understanding of life expectancy after a diagnosis of mesothelioma.
According to the American Cancer Society, the average age that a patient is diagnosed with mesothelioma is 72 years old.
Here are common tests for each type of mesothelioma.
Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma Diagnosis
Pleural mesothelioma occurs in the pleura, the membrane or lining of the lung.
Common diagnostic tests for pleural mesothelioma include:
- Chest X-rays
- CT scans
They may also use pulmonary function tests to determine whether the mesothelioma has impacted lung function and PET scans to see how far the cancer has spread.
Get help after a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis with our Free Mesothelioma Guide.
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Peritoneal Mesothelioma Diagnosis
Peritoneal mesothelioma develops in the peritoneum, the lining that covers most of your abdominal organs.
If doctors suspect you have peritoneal mesothelioma, they will order a CT scan of the abdominal cavity to see if any abnormalities are visible.
If abnormal cells are detected, doctors will then order a biopsy to confirm a diagnosis of mesothelioma.
According to the American Journal of Medicine, this type of mesothelioma is hard to diagnose because symptoms are “nonspecific” or overlap with less serious conditions. As a result, a peritoneal mesothelioma diagnosis may take up to 4 months to confirm.
Pericardial Mesothelioma Diagnosis
Pericardial mesothelioma affects the pericardium, the lining of the heart.
Doctors may use chest X-rays, echocardiograms, and MRI scans to determine whether mesothelioma tumors have developed in the pericardium.
It is incredibly rare for pericardial mesothelioma to be diagnosed early. In most cases, it is not found until the patient has already passed.
Testicular Mesothelioma Diagnosis
This type of mesothelioma starts in the tunica vaginalis, the membrane covering the testicles. Cancer care providers may use ultrasounds, blood tests, and X-rays to help diagnose testicular mesothelioma.
Finding Help After a Mesothelioma Diagnosis
Mesothelioma life expectancy after diagnosis can be discouraging. Because malignant mesothelioma is so aggressive, patients often receive a poor prognosis (health outlook).
However, an early malignant mesothelioma diagnosis can dramatically improve your chances of receiving life-extending treatment.
If you or a loved one need help finding a mesothelioma specialist, treatment options, or even a second opinion, contact our on-staff nursing support team today.
We may also be able to see if you are eligible for compensation to help pay for treatment.
Call (888) 360-2406 today or download our Free Mesothelioma Guide to get started.
Mesothelioma Diagnosis FAQs
Is mesothelioma difficult to diagnose?
Yes, mesothelioma can be difficult to diagnose, as it is a rare condition that shares symptoms with more common illnesses.
Doctors need to order several tests, including imaging scans, blood tests, and biopsies, to diagnose mesothelioma.
Call us at (888) 360-2406 for help finding a mesothelioma specialist near you that can help confirm a diagnosis.
Can mesothelioma be found in a blood test?
Signs or biomarkers of mesothelioma can sometimes be found in blood tests. However, blood tests cannot be used as proof of diagnosis. Doctors will need to order biopsies before making a final and official diagnosis.
How do you detect mesothelioma early?
If you are experiencing a cough or chest pain and have a history of asbestos exposure, it is incredibly important to talk with your doctor about diagnostic tests as soon as possible.
Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma. However, by the time mesothelioma patients start to experience symptoms, the cancer may have already started to spread.
Thus, seeing a doctor and getting an early mesothelioma diagnosis is key. The sooner the diagnosis is confirmed, the sooner treatments can start to help patients live longer.
Why does the mesothelioma diagnosis process take so long?
The mesothelioma diagnosis process can sometimes take a long time as doctors must rule out other possible causes of a patient’s symptoms. Doctors must perform a number of tests before a diagnosis of mesothelioma can be confirmed.
What is the average life expectancy after a mesothelioma diagnosis?
Life expectancy after a mesothelioma diagnosis varies for every patient because it is impacted by the stage and location of the cancer as well as other factors.
The average life expectancy for most mesothelioma patients is between 12 and 21 months.
However, some mesothelioma patients have lived for decades following a mesothelioma diagnosis with the right medical care.
What are my options after a mesothelioma diagnosis?
After receiving an accurate diagnosis of mesothelioma, your care provider will recommend treatments to maximize your life expectancy and reduce discomfort.
Depending on the severity and location of your mesothelioma tumors, your treatment plan may include surgery, targeted therapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, or chemotherapy. Clinical trials may also be an option.