Mesothelioma diagnosis and detection

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on June 6, 2022.


Mesothelioma experts use a variety of specialized tests and tools designed to diagnose mesothelioma, evaluating the disease and personalizing each patient’s treatment plan. These tools are also used throughout mesothelioma treatment, to track the size of the tumor(s), monitor the response to treatment and modify the plan when needed.

How is mesothelioma diagnosed?

When patients first come in for evaluation, the care team performs a physical exam, and then may order additional tests if mesothelioma is suspected.

Evaluations the care team may perform to diagnose mesothelioma include those listed below.

Mesothelioma biopsy

Endoscopic biopsy techniques may be performed to diagnose mesothelioma, including:

  • 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

Imaging tests for mesothelioma

CT scans: These imaging tests are frequently used when making a mesothelioma diagnosis to help pinpoint the location of cancer in the body. Typically, patients with pleural mesothelioma receive a CT of the chest with contrast dye. CT scans typically take 10 minutes to 15 minutes to perform.

MRI: Because mesothelioma may spread to the diaphragm, an MRI may be used to look at the diaphragm, the muscle used for breathing, which separates the chest from the abdomen.

PET/CT scan: PET/CT may be used to detect cancerous tissue and cells that may not always be found through a CT scan or MRI alone. In particular, for mesothelioma patients, PET/CT helps doctors determine if the cancer has spread.

Pulmonary function testing

The care team may perform pulmonary function tests (PFTs), also called lung function tests, to evaluate how well patients can empty air from their lungs, how much air they can hold and how well the lungs get oxygen into their bloodstream from the air they breathe.

Next topic: How is mesothelioma treated?

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