Around 3,000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed annually in the US, the majority of them being traced to job-related exposures to asbestos. The most common type of mesothelioma is the pleural type, which forms on the lining of the lungs, and around the lining of the heart and abdomen. It can take anywhere from 20 to 50 years after the initial asbestos exposure for mesothelioma to develop and before symptoms appear. However, even with such a long latency period in which one would expect severe symptoms, determining whether you suffer from this form of lung cancer or not can take up to 3 months. There are 3 main steps to diagnosing mesothelioma:
1. Symptoms Begin to Show
Symptoms often mimic those of other diseases and typically appear 20-50 years after exposure. In pleural mesothelioma, chest pain and difficulty breathing are the first symptoms to appear. If you have a history of occupational asbestos exposure, you should keep an eye out for the symptoms above and report them to a doctor immediately.See How Is Mesothelioma Diagnosed
2. The Patient Consults a Primary Care Physician
When you go see your primary care physician, he/she will discuss with you about your symptoms and will perform preliminary tests. You will also be asked about your medical history and work history to hasten the diagnostic process. Your physician will order X-rays in order to determine the presence or absence of fluid in the lungs, which usually indicates pneumonia. If the doctor sees fluid in your lungs, he will tell you that you probably have pneumonia and you will be prescribed medication to treat it. Thus, on day 3 to 13, since your symptoms appeared, your physician will either recommend a 10-day long antibiotics treatment and/or drain your fluid from the pleural cavity. No cancer cells are detected in the fluid at this point.
After 2 weeks since the initial symptoms, you will undergo X-rays again after the treatment you received for pneumonia. X-rays after treatment will show clear, fluid-free lungs. The doctor will order follow-up X-rays after you finished your treatment and you should return for a checkup in 30 days.
If after 30 days new X-rays show fluid in pleural cavity again, your doctor will try the same treatment again. You will be prescribed antibiotics, possibly more concentrated and/or your fluid will be drained from your lungs. Also, your physician will ask you to get PET scans and CT scans to allow your doctor to get a detailed view of your lungs.
PET scans and CT scans are often used when X-rays do not provide sufficient details of a targeted area. This time, 54 days after your symptoms first appeared, PET and CT scans show a problem, a possible underlying cause or recurrent pneumonia. From this moment on, your primary care physician will refer you to a surgeon for an appointment, which can take up to 15 days.
3. The Oncologist Makes the Final Diagnosis
Almost 70 days after your initial symptoms, your primary care physician will send you to an oncologist for imaging scans, biopsies, and blood tests to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis. Getting a biopsy appointment can take up to 10 days. A biopsy is a sample of tissue taken from the body and examined to determine the presence, cause or extent of a disease. Your surgeon will let you know what preparations you need to make before your biopsy. You will be required to spend 3 days in the hospital, as the biopsy is usually done via VATS. Lab work can take up to 10 days and the tissue sample may be chemically treated or frozen and sliced into very thin sections. Next, the sections are placed on glass slides, stained to enhance contrast and studied under a microscope.
On day 89 after your initial symptoms, the results of the biopsy arrive. Mesothelioma is confirmed if biopsy tests positive for the disease. Your surgeon will guide you to a specialist to help you cope with the disease and receive adequate help. Factors that affect your prognosis include:
- blood characteristics
- overall health
- size and location of the tumor
- tumor cell type
- type/stage of mesothelioma
The types of treatment you receive depend on your diagnosis, the stage, and type of your mesothelioma and your overall health. Generally, 3 primary types of treatment are offered to mesothelioma patients: surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
Helping Patients Find the Best Doctor for Their Condition
At MesotheliomaDr, our primary mission is to help patients find the best doctor and the best hospital for their condition. Through this website, we aim to empower all patients and their loved ones to search for experienced doctors who meet their needs. We also work closely with mesothelioma expert physicians to help build a more dedicated care system for mesothelioma patients.