Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer, with approximately 3,000 new cases every year in the U.S. However, this is only one of the reasons why it is often misdiagnosed as a more common disease by medical professionals. There are numerous other factors which contribute to the high rates of misdiagnosis, including the complexity of mesothelioma and the employment of inappropriate diagnostic procedures by inexperienced oncologists.
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If you have a history of asbestos exposure and are experiencing the following symptoms, you may be suffering from a type of mesothelioma:
- shortness of breath
- a persistent cough
- chest pain
- unexplained weight loss
- abdominal pain
- nausea and vomiting
- night sweats
- loss of appetite
At the same time, the signs above accompany hundreds of unrelated affections. Because the symptoms of mesothelioma are quite vague and can falsely indicate the presence of other diseases, we highly encourage you to seek a second opinion. The sole cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. Between 2 and 10 percent of the people who were exposed to high levels of asbestos in the past will develop pleural mesothelioma. Thus, it is crucial to be evaluated by multiple specialists in asbestos-related diseases, as the risk of misdiagnosis will decrease considerably.
Why Is Mesothelioma Misdiagnosed So Frequently?
In addition to low prevalence and ambiguous symptoms, the following factors may also lead to misdiagnosis:
- Complexity. Mesothelioma has a very intricate nature. Despite the recent medical breakthrough, there are still a lot of aspects regarding the mechanisms of this cancer which have not been discovered yet. Additionally, the small number of mesothelioma patients also makes it difficult for researchers to properly study how the disease occurs and develops.
- Inexperience. The majority of oncologists will never encounter a single mesothelioma case throughout their entire practice, as it is a rare form of cancer. Consequently, it is very easy for medical professionals who are not specializing in asbestos-related diseases to mistake mesothelioma for a less severe pulmonary illness or for lung cancer. The typical symptoms of mesothelioma will also add to the confusion, misleading doctors to assign a wrong diagnosis.
- Ineffective tests and diagnostic procedures. As previously discussed, most oncologists do not have the chance to examine mesothelioma patients. If you suspect that you might have developed mesothelioma and fail to get evaluated by a specialist, you will not benefit from the most accurate and reliable diagnostic methods. For instance, numerous oncologists recommend a fluid biopsy, which will not be very effective if you have mesothelioma. Cancer cells involved in mesothelial tumors cannot be properly observed in a fluid sample. A tissue biopsy needs to be performed instead, which could reveal invaluable information.
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Nevertheless, if you have already been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you should also seek a second opinion, as there are certain aspects of your disease which might have been inaccurately assessed, such as stage and cell type. The stage of mesothelioma can sometimes be misjudged even by experts, particularly if you are suffering from peritoneal or pericardial mesothelioma, which does not have clear staging systems. Regardless of your current diagnosis, if you have a history of asbestos exposure, it is always a wise idea to visit another certified and experienced specialist who can provide you with a second opinion.
What Could Misdiagnosis Mean for My Prognosis?
Not having your illness properly identified and evaluated will prevent you from receiving appropriate treatment. Mesothelioma requires a specific treatment regimen, in the absence of which your health will rapidly deteriorate, as this cancer also has a very aggressive progress. If for instance, you are wrongly assigned a lung cancer diagnosis, mesothelioma will not respond to the treatment you would be undergoing and as a consequence, cancer would continue to grow and spread.
Without effective treatment, your prognosis will be severely affected and your quality of life will decrease tremendously. It is important to remember that the earlier mesothelioma is detected, the more treatment options you have, including surgery. As cancer advances, the number of treatments you can safely undergo diminishes.
What Can I Do to Avoid Being Misdiagnosed?
If you believe you might be suffering from mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, taking into consideration the following recommendations should help you avoid misdiagnosis:
- Choose a board-certified specialist with relevant experience in diagnosing and treating asbestos-related diseases, particularly mesothelioma.
- Provide your doctor with information regarding your asbestos exposure – when it occurred, for how long you have been exposed to asbestos, what your job was, what asbestos products you were in contact with etc.
- After you receive a diagnosis, seek a second and even a third opinion from equally qualified experts.
What Are the Most Accurate Tests for Mesothelioma?
Your doctor will be able to guide you towards the most reliable and appropriate diagnostic methods for your particular case. However, there are a series of tests with high accuracy rates when it comes to detecting mesothelioma, including:
- tissue biopsies
- the Mesomark assay
- CT scans
- the SOMAmer panel
- chest X-rays
- the Human MPF Elisa Kit
Finally, it is worthy of note that these procedures and tests are complementary and should be used together for a reliable diagnosis. While a CT scan can reveal important information about the location and size of tumors, it will not tell anything regarding their content. To determine cell type, a tissue sample needs to be collected from the lungs or, in the case of peritoneal mesothelioma, from the abdominal cavity, which will then be carefully analyzed by a well-versed pathologist. Similarly, while the Mesomark blood test can confirm the presence of mesothelioma, it does not provide any additional information about the disease. Thus, all the diagnostic methods above must be employed for a proper examination.
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