A Victim's Guide: Mesothelioma Diagnosis
This five-part victim’s guide is designed for those who have been affected by toxic exposure to asbestos. Throughout the next five articles, you will learn about the symptoms of asbestos-related illnesses, as well as receive detailed information about the most serious and deadly of the group-a rare type of cancer called mesothelioma.
In part two, we will examine the diagnostic procedures used for identifying mesothelioma-a condition notorious for being difficult to catch while in its early stages. Because recognizing the disease before it has a chance to spread to other parts of the body is the key to effective treatment, exposure victims need to be familiar with how the disease is diagnosed and know what screening methods are available to them.
One of the greatest tragedies of the asbestoscrisis is the difficulty that comes with getting a conclusive mesothelioma diagnosis. As discussed in the previous installment, asbestos symptoms tend to be rather ambiguous and can easily be mistaken for other, far less serious conditions-such as minor respiratory tract infections or chronic but non-life-threatening digestive disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Getting the right diagnosis requires being aware of possible warning signs and getting to a doctor quickly if they are noticed, as well as making sure that your doctor understands that you have a history of asbestos exposure-which is the most common risk factor associated with mesothelioma.
Screening Methods for Asbestos Victims
People at an increased risk for developing mesothelioma (i.e. those who have a known history of contact with asbestos, such as may occur in an occupational setting) are strongly advised to take advantage of any cancer screening measures that may be available in their area. These are usually restricted to things like specially tailored physical exams and lung function tests, but cancer research centers are working on developing new blood tests that will be effective for screening those at an increased risk of developing asbestos-related cancers like mesothelioma. Hopefully, in the near future, preventative medicine-including screening tests-will lead to improved diagnostic conditions for asbestos victims.
Steps to a Mesothelioma Diagnosis
When mesothelioma cancer is suspected, physicians typically use one or more imaging techniques to further investigate. These may include a chest x-ray first, followed by more advanced imaging tests-including an MRI, PET or CT scan. Although imaging technology can give doctors more insight into a possible case of mesothelioma, they are not generally considered sufficient for diagnostic purposes.
A biopsy is the clinical standard for a conclusive diagnosis. This procedure involves the removal of tissue or fluid from the suspected area of malignancy and sometimes but not always requires surgery. Once a sample has been taken, it is examined in a lab for cancer cells-whether or not they are found determines whether or not a mesothelioma diagnosis is made.