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How do doctors test for and diagnose mesothelioma?

In one of our posts last week, we told readers about some common symptoms of pleural mesothelioma, which affects the tissue surrounding the lungs and is the most common form of the disease. Unfortunately, the symptoms are common to many other conditions as well, meaning that patients may not think to have a doctor test for mesothelioma specifically.


Today's post will focus on how doctors generally test for the disease when they suspect that a patient might have it. As you might expect, the methods used to test for mesothelioma are similar to those used to diagnose other forms of cancer.

Your doctor may begin by ordering imaging scans, including CT scans and chest X-rays. The CT scans may also include images of your abdomen to check for peritoneal mesothelioma. This is mesothelioma that develops in the lining around the stomach or abdomen.

If the imaging scans reveal or suggest the presence of mesothelioma, the doctor will likely order one or more biopsies. There are about five different types of procedures doctors use to take tissue samples in order to test for mesothelioma, which you can read about on the Mayo Clinic's website. All tests are necessarily invasive; some more so than others. Certain procedures involve small incisions and the insertion of a camera, while others involve larger incisions and direct access to the biopsy sites.

Once the tissue samples are analyzed, your doctor will be able confirm whether or not you have mesothelioma, and if so, what stage it is in. Like other types of cancer, mesothelioma is divided into four stages, with later stages being less responsive to treatment.

As we wrote last week, mesothelioma is deadly, in part, because it develops over decades and often escapes detection until it is in its late stages. That's why regular screening is very important if you know or suspect that you were exposed to asbestos earlier in life.

Image Source: CXR demonstrating a mesothelioma by Doc James shared with CC-BY 3.0

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