Mesothelioma Diagnosis & Detection
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If you are experiencing symptoms of mesothelioma, be sure to see your doctor. He or she should take detailed notes about your medical history, ask questions about the symptoms you are experiencing and examine you for possible signs of cancer. If you have been exposed to asbestos, you should discuss this information with your doctor.
Following a physical examination with your doctor, you may need to have a chest X-ray. This will allow your doctor to examine your lungs for possible abnormalities. Should your doctor suspect that you have mesothelioma or another disease, you will need to undergo a series of blood tests and other diagnostic imaging tests, such as a CT scan, PET/CT scan or MRI. Finally, a biopsy must be taken and analyzed in a laboratory to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis.
Diagnostic Imaging Tests for Mesothelioma
Doctors use diagnostic imaging tests to:
- Detect cancer
- Determine if cancer has spread to other areas in the body
- Evaluate if treatment is working
In addition to a chest X-ray, your team may use the following imaging tests when diagnosing mesothelioma:
- CT – Computed tomography (CT) is an X-ray procedure that uses a computer to generate three-dimensional, cross-sectional images of the body. In some cases, a CT scan can show diseased tissue and other affected areas that conventional X-rays miss. CT scans are frequently used when making a mesothelioma diagnosis, as they allow your team to pinpoint the location of cancer in the body. Typically, patients receive a CT of the chest with contrast dye. CT scans typically take 10 to 15 minutes to perform.
- PET/CT – This tool merges two diagnostic imaging technologies: positron emission tomography (PET) and CT. You receive both scans in a single imaging session. A radioactive sugar solution is first administered into one of your veins. The sugar accumulates in cancerous areas of your body. The scanner is then able to "see" where the glucose is being taken up (cancer cells often use more glucose than normal cells). PET/CT can be used to detect cancerous tissue and cells that may not always be found through a CT scan alone or MRI. In particular, PET/CT helps doctors determine if cancer has spread.
- MRI – Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a diagnostic technology that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of inside the body. MRI shows greater soft tissue contrast than CT. MRIs may be taken with or without contrast dye, and take approximately an hour to perform. When diagnosing mesothelioma, MRI may be used to look at the diaphragm, the muscle used for breathing, which separates the chest from the abdomen. Mesothelioma can spread to the diaphragm.
Fluid Tests for Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma can cause a buildup of fluid in the chest, abdomen or area surrounding the heart. Doctors can obtain a sample of the fluid and have it analyzed in a laboratory to determine if cancer cells are present.
For example, if your doctor believes you have pleural mesothelioma, he or she may use an instrument with a thin needle to remove a fluid sample from your chest. This is known as a thoracentesis.
Typically, in addition to the fluid sample, doctors perform a biopsy to obtain a tissue sample.
Biopsies for Mesothelioma
Doctors obtain biopsies of abnormal tissue which they analyze under a microscope. If the tissue contains cancer, the biopsy confirms a diagnosis of mesothelioma.
Depending on where in the body the disease exists, a specific type of biopsy will be performed. Biopsies can be retrieved through a needle or an endoscope, a thin, lighted tube used to see inside the body. Endoscopic biopsies that may be performed to diagnose mesothelioma include:
- Thoracoscopy – Used to examine the inside of the chest and obtain a biopsy.
- Mediastinoscopy – Inserted into the chest to look at the space between the lungs and obtain a biopsy.
- Bronchoscopy – Used to examine and biopsy tissue in the lungs, bronchi (tubes inside the lungs) and trachea (windpipe).
- Laparoscopy – Used to look inside the abdomen and obtain tissue samples.
Post-Diagnosis: Mesothelioma Evaluation & Treatment Planning
At Cancer Treatment Centers of America, patients who have received a mesothelioma diagnosis undergo a thorough evaluation and additional testing to ensure the disease is accurately diagnosed and staged. This allows our doctors to personalize treatment plans to each individual and help them receive the mesothelioma treatment they need.
Next Topic: Mesothelioma Staging