Relying solely on the clinical manifestations of mesothelioma will not help doctors find the most appropriate treatment for individuals. As such, diagnostic tests must be performed in order to determine and confirm the presence of the cancerous growth. This helps doctors, especially oncologists, in the creation of a plan of care that truly reflects the condition of the patient.
Health experts cannot help but overemphasize the importance of early detection and diagnosis especially in cancer management. Early detection allows for the selection of more appropriate treatment options. Surgery remains the treatment of choice in cancer management but only if the cancer has been detected early in its development, meaning it has not yet spread into other organs of the body.
Early diagnosis is also directly proportional to survival rates. The earlier mesothelioma is diagnosed, the more effective the treatments, and the better the patient outcomes. Conversely, if the cancer was diagnosed late in its development, treatment options are limited and do not guarantee survival rates longer than 12 months.
More often than not, you will seek medical attention several months after you notice something wrong with your body. During your initial visit, your doctor will obtain as much information as he possibly can about your condition. He will perform a very comprehensive review of your health, medical, and occupational history. A comprehensive physical examination will also be performed in order to identify any clinical abnormality that may coexist with your condition. Your doctor will then discuss with you your symptoms. He may also run some standard diagnostic tests. However, a general practitioner will almost always refer you to a specialist for more definitive tests.
These tests aim to visualize the organ or body cavity suspected of having an abnormal tissue growth. It should be understood that a mass on an x-ray or even a CT-scan does not automatically rule in mesothelioma because there are other types of cancers as well as abnormal tissue growths that can produce similar images. The gold standard of diagnostic imaging techniques for mesothelioma diagnosis is the Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan combined with Computed Tomography (CT) Scan in order to obtain a more detailed look about the malignant nature of an abnormal tissue growth. Other diagnostic imaging tests used in mesothelioma diagnosis include x-rays and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scans. PET Scans are preferred because potentially cancerous growths are readily discernible in the resulting images.
While PET Scans can potentially show if an abnormal tissue growth is cancerous or not, it will not reveal whether the abnormal growth is mesothelioma or another type of cancer. That is why imaging tests are not definitive. The only definitive diagnostic test for mesothelioma is a tissue biopsy that can be confirmed with histopathologic testing. Doctors can perform a variety of methods to obtain tissue samples from the suspected cancerous growth:
Tissue biopsy and histopathologic testing remain the diagnostic tests of choice among many oncologists. However, this does not stop other scientists from considering other less invasive diagnostic testing. Of particular interest is the role Enzyme-linked Immunosorbent Assays (ELISA) may play in the determination of certain protein markers – soluble mesothelin-related peptide (SMRP) – that may indicate mesothelioma. Currently there are three ELISA-based blood tests that have been approved by the FDA in relation to the diagnosis of mesothelioma.
One out of 50 individuals with mesothelioma can still be misdiagnosed even with the most sensitive PET Scan-CT Scan combination. The highest possible diagnostic value of serologic testing is 90 percent, meaning there is still the possibility of a misdiagnosis in 1 out of 10 cases. Individuals who seek professional help from doctors who are not really familiar with mesothelioma can also increase the risk of misdiagnosis. As such, it is imperative that individuals who have a history of exposure to asbestos (no matter how brief) and who are presenting with some of the classic signs of mesothelioma should always seek diagnosis from a cancer center especially one that specializes in mesothelioma. This is the best chance for individuals to get the most accurate diagnosis and confirmation of their condition.
Getting diagnosed with mesothelioma is only the beginning of your journey. Some would seek a second or third opinion while others will start preparing for their treatments. Whatever the case, it is important to seek highly specialized care from mesothelioma-focused cancer treatment facilities. You may also want to learn more about mesothelioma as well as the different treatment modalities, including alternative and complementary therapies. You may also want to check financial assistance programs designed primarily for mesothelioma patients. Lastly, there are now many social support groups for mesothelioma patients. It usually is an excellent idea to join in these support groups.