Although at this point there is no known cure for mesothelioma, there is evidence that the earlier the disease is diagnosed, the more options are available for treatment, and therefore the more chances there are for extending the patient’s lifespan beyond the average of just under two years.
A great deal of clinical research is being done to determine whether early markers can be found for mesothelioma; this would be particularly helpful for those who have a known exposure to the disease.
Until those tests are proven and become widely available, physicians and patients will need to rely upon more traditional diagnostic tests to confirm the presence of the disease. Mesothelioma is not the type of disease that can be diagnosed easily. In large part this is because it has such an extremely long latency period.
Mesothelioma can be triggered by exposure to a relatively small amount of asbestos, and though the fibers that embed in the cells of the body begin to do their damage almost immediately, the process is extremely slow, and it often takes between thirty and fifty years before any symptoms arise.
Those symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing and chest pain for those who have pleural mesothelioma. For those with peritoneal mesothelioma the symptoms are more centered on the abdomen, and include pain in the stomach, diarrhea and nausea, and palpable lumps of tissue on the torso.
Because many of the most common symptoms are so similar to those of the common cold or flu, or other more frequently seen illnesses, patients often spend a great deal of time simply waiting for the symptoms to go away or self-medicating with over the counter treatments.
It is only when the stubborn cough or ache won’t go away that they finally see their doctor, who generally will write a prescription for an antibiotic or stomach remedy. Weeks and months can go by before concerns about the possibility of a more serious illness arise, and by that time the patient has grown markedly sicker.
Awareness of Asbestos Exposure Helps
The exception to this type of scenario is the patient who is not only aware of their earlier exposure to asbestos, but who also has a good knowledge of the dangers of the disease.
If the mesothelioma victim, or his physician, or both are on the lookout for the symptoms of asbestos-related disease, it provides the best opportunity to get the diagnosis confirmed quickly and to immediately begin treatment.
Mesothelioma Diagnostic Tests
Once mesothelioma is suspected, there are a number of different diagnostic tests that your physician can order to confirm that the disease is present. Many of these are imaging tests.
- MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
- CT Scan (Computed Tomography Scan)
- PET Scan (Positron Emission Tomography)
Other tests that can be done are more invasive, and include peritoneoscopy, which involves having a small incision made in your abdomen to allow entry of a scope that provides doctors the opportunity to examine inside without having to do major surgery.
Thoracoscopy is a similar procedure that is done through the chest. In both procedures it is common for your physician to remove small samples of tissue, called a biopsy, for examination in the laboratory.
A pathologist will examine the tissue sample, or samples of fluid, for the presence of mesothelioma cells. This analysis is the most definitive confirmation of the presence of the asbestos disease, and signals the beginning of your medical team preparing your course of treatment.