Doctors use a variety of tools to make a mesothelioma diagnosis. They will examine your symptoms, then perform imaging tests (X-rays, MRIs, or CT scans), and confirm the diagnosis with a biopsy. An accurate mesothelioma diagnosis is critical to receive the best treatment.
Steps to Diagnose Mesothelioma
A mesothelioma cancer diagnosis usually starts with your symptoms, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Most patients see their doctors to get a physical exam a few months after the first symptoms of mesothelioma set in.
Video Summary: Registered Nurse Amy Fair discusses the team of doctors that are involved when getting a mesothelioma diagnosis. View Transcript.
Who should be on my medical team for treatment?
The health care professionals that are involved in the diagnosis of mesothelioma many times start with your primary doctor because of the symptoms of a cough or shortness of breath.
Many times they are referred then on to a pulmonologist if the symptoms don’t resolve. After the pulmonologist does a CT scan or a chest X-ray and notes a mass in the pleura or the abdomen, they will refer them on to a thoracic surgeon to have that biopsy to confirm the disease.
The surgeon, after getting the diagnosis, will then refer them on to either a radiation oncologist or oncologist for treatment.
At first, your doctor may suspect a common condition like pneumonia or irritable bowel syndrome is causing your symptoms. You may then need to get imaging scans from a pulmonologist (respiratory system doctor) or oncologist (cancer doctor).
Pulmonary specialists and oncologists have more experience examining symptoms and performing tests than general doctors, especially when cancer is suspected.
|Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms||Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms|
|Chest pain||Abdominal pain|
|Cough||Nausea and vomiting|
|Shortness of breath||Weight loss|
When you get an appointment with a mesothelioma specialist, prepare to spend up to an hour at the first consultation. Expect several follow-up visits and multiple tests in order to make the diagnosis. It is very rare to be diagnosed with mesothelioma in a single visit.
Mesothelioma Diagnosis & Asbestos Exposure
Your history of asbestos exposure can be crucial in helping doctors make a diagnosis of mesothelioma. Asbestos is the biggest risk factor and only known cause of this deadly cancer.
“A suspicion of mesothelioma should always arise when a patient with a case history of reasonable asbestos exposure is examined for pleural effusion or pleural masses of unknown [origin].”
– European Respiratory Journal
Your doctor will help determine if you were exposed to asbestos by asking about your work and military service history.
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Veterans have an increased risk of getting mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure in the military. Veterans who worked in shipbuilding, naval shipyards, or construction have the highest rates of asbestos exposure. Non-veterans can also be exposed through blue-collar work.
With a detailed exposure history, doctors are more likely to go straight to specific tests for mesothelioma.