Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Time is of the essence for patients who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer. Patients must seek treatment from a mesothelioma specialist to ensure they get the best medical care available. And patients need to apply for funding through asbestos trusts for money to pay for advanced treatments and associated costs.

For most people, the process of diagnosing mesothelioma is drawn out over weeks or months, giving the disease even more time to fester and grow. It is important for all patients who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, or suspect a mesothelioma diagnosis, to seek a second opinion from a skilled mesothelioma specialist.

There are only a handful of doctors nationwide who are considered experts in the field of mesothelioma care. Every day, our Patient Advocates connect patients to one of these physicians. They also help patients get access to the money it takes to get the best possible care. Even with the best medical insurance, treating this disease is costly.

Testing Timeline

While recognizing that all treatment plans are different, a loose timeline for diagnostic testing would include:

  • Days 1 to 14 – Patient visits primary care doctor because of shortness of breath, a persistent cough and fatigue. A chest x-ray reveals fluid in the lungs as a sign of pneumonia and antibiotics are prescribed.
  • Days 15 to 40 – Although a follow-up x-ray reveals the chest fluids have cleared, the symptoms return again. The doctor may order another round of antibiotics or drain the fluids. The fluids test negative for cancer cells. The doctor may order a CT scan or PET scan.
  • Days 41 – 60 – The imaging tests show a possibility of cancer or recurrent pneumonia. The patient is asked to see a surgeon for further testing.
  • Days 61 – 80 – After waiting several weeks for an appointment to see the surgeon, the patient is scheduled for a biopsy. The biopsy is sent to the pathologist for review.
  • Days 81 – 90 – It usually takes up to 10 days for an outside lab to perform all the necessary tests for a mesothelioma diagnosis. Asbestos-cancer is confirmed if the testing shows the disease.
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Diagnostic Testing

  • Image tests – used to check for unusual masses or tumors. These types of tests are effective for diagnosing mesothelioma, but do not give doctors all the information they need for a complete assessment of the disease and the appropriate treatment.
  • Biopsies – small tissue or fluid samples taken for a laboratory review. They allow physicians to determine where the cancer originated, the cell types involved in the cancer and the extent of the growth.
  • Blood tests – to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis are still in their infant years so doctors do not solely rely on them. These tests analyze the patient’s blood for biomarkers to confirm the presence of mesothelioma.

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Imaging Tests

Common imaging tests required for a diagnosis include:

  • X-rays – The patient either stands up or lies down, depending on the image needed. X-rays produce basic information for an initial diagnosis.
  • CT (CAT) Scans – The patient lays on a narrow table that slides through a large doughnut-shaped machine or a large tube. This shows the levels of density and masses inside an organ.
  • MRI Scans – The patient reclines on a narrow table that slides through a short cylinder. It is very noisy, but produces detailed pictures of the organs. The pictures are often clearer and more detailed than with a CT scan.
  • PET Scans – The patient is given a small dose of a radioactive chemical called a radiotracer that is absorbed by organs and tissue. The patient lies on a narrow exam table that moves through the doughnut-shaped machine. A PET scanner is able to detect the earliest changes in organs and tissue.
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Biopsy Tests

  • Fine-Needle Aspiration – Doctors use a long, thin and hollow needle to puncture a suspicious mass and extract tissue or fluids. Some patients ask for a numbing cream before the procedure.
  • Thoracoscopy – Doctors insert a small camera through several small incisions to examine the chest area. With this, doctors can also take tissue samples for further review. This is usually done under local or general anesthesia. Statistics show a thoracoscopy is accurate for up to 98 percent of asbestos-cancer patients.
  • Excisional Biopsy – Doctors remove the whole mass, tissue sample or tumor for further testing. This is performed in an operating room under local anesthesia.
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