Mesothelioma is a rare cancer of the lungs. Oftentimes, it isn’t the first diagnosis a doctor would investigate when faced with symptoms related to the lungs. Seeking out the help of a specialist and getting a second opinion can combat a misdiagnosis.
Understanding A Mesothelioma Misdiagnosis
Mesothelioma misdiagnosis is a common problem. It is a condition that doesn’t always have specific symptoms that would lead a doctor to automatically suspect the patient has cancer.
Often the symptoms are written off as being some other, more common respiratory illness rather than cancer of the pleural lining. Even still, it is important to attempt to diagnose mesothelioma as soon as possible so that treatment can begin when the disease is in its earlier stages.
Mesothelioma is particularly hard to diagnose because the symptoms mimic other, more common diseases and it isn’t something an ordinary doctor comes into contact with on a regular basis.
If you have symptoms that aren’t getting better or regressing over time, it may be helpful to get a second opinion. Another doctor may be more suspicious of cancer, or the condition may have spread to make it more readily identifiable using testing such as an X-ray. You should never be afraid to seek a second opinion if you aren’t getting better or feel your diagnosis may have been incorrect.
The only true way of diagnosing mesothelioma is by doing an open lung biopsy and taking a sampling of the cancerous tissue. Shadows may show up on a chest X-ray that a thoracic surgeon can use to find an area of the chest cavity to retrieve a biopsy from.
Sometimes the tumor shows itself by developing a buildup of fluid, known as a pleural effusion. The pleural effusion can be due to a number of things, so a doctor may not immediately make the connection between the presence of fluid and a possible cancer. A person may also be experiencing abdominal or chest pain, but it may be so minor that it is written off as musculoskeletal pain or pleurisy.
There are many more common diseases that have symptoms of chest pain and shortness of breath. Even if a doctor makes the connection between the symptoms and some kind of lung cancer, a mesothelioma tumor can resemble other types of lung or metastatic cancer. The diagnosis of mesothelioma is so far down on the list of possibilities due to its rarity that it is unusual for a doctor to identify it right away.
Difficulties With Diagnosing Mesothelioma
With the symptoms of chest pain and shortness of breath, a doctor may order a CT scan or X-ray of the chest. If a lesion is seen, adenocarcinoma of the lung would be the most likely diagnosis, which has a different treatment regime from mesothelioma. The doctor will likely have to have a surgeon perform a biopsy of the tissue to see what kind of cancer is present in the lesion.
Even when a biopsy is done, there can be difficulties in making the diagnosis. When investigated under a microscope, the cancer cells can resemble other types of cancer. Because mesothelioma is such an unusual condition to come across, the pathologist may not recognize the microscope slide as mesothelioma and diagnose it as some other kind of lung cancer. This can send the patient down the wrong treatment path, because the initial pathology report wasn’t accurate and didn’t indicate mesothelioma.
Sometimes the doctor will attempt to make a cancer diagnosis by sampling a part of the fluid (pleural effusion) around the lungs with the hope that some cancer cells are found in the fluid; however, this can be very unreliable. Cancer cells are hard to detect in a fluid sample, so the diagnosis of mesothelioma can be missed entirely. In order to correctly diagnose mesothelioma, an actual tissue biopsy is often necessary, and this is harder to obtain than a sampling of the pleural effusion.
Sometimes a pathologist is able to identify mesothelioma as being the actual cancer present in the lungs or abdomen, but mistakes are often made in the staging of the disease. Sometimes a doctor will determine that the mesothelioma is in the advanced stages of the disease when actually it is more localized. The opposite can also be true and the doctor may feel that the cancer is localized when it has actually spread or metastasized to distant parts of the body.
As treatment is partially determined by the stage of mesothelioma an individual is in, the wrong treatment can be suggested because the cancer wasn’t staged properly. This means that if the doctor diagnoses you as having an advanced case of mesothelioma, you should get a second opinion by a mesothelioma specialist who has more experience in identifying the amount of cancer you have in your body, and who can set you on a better treatment course.
Misdiagnosing mesothelioma can mean that you don’t get any treatment at all, or receive the wrong type of treatment because an incorrect diagnosis was made. This is another reason why getting a second opinion as to the status of your cancer is important. A mesothelioma specialist can better make the diagnosis, identify the stage of the cancer and set you on a course of treatment and therapies that can drastically prolong your life.
If you were initially misdiagnosed and the cancer continued to grow because it wasn’t treated properly, there is still a chance that a later correct diagnosis will prolong your life. Even if the mesothelioma is treated at a later stage, there are therapies that can help you live longer with advanced stage mesothelioma.
You might want to consider enrolling in a clinical trial that utilizes novel therapies on patients who don’t have many other options. Within these trials, there is a chance to get on a better therapy method that isn’t available to people who aren’t enrolled in this type of program. Being in a clinical trial can prolong your life by providing you with a better treatment regime than is currently available.
Preventing Mesothelioma Misdiagnoses
Misdiagnoses of mesothelioma don’t have to be the end of the world. Many people with mesothelioma are misdiagnosed in the early stages, or are misdiagnosed as having advanced disease when the mesothelioma isn’t as bad as was initially thought.
When the correct diagnosis is finally made, you can then start on a path with the right treatment that will prolong your life and help you survive this type of cancer. You can prevent a mesothelioma misdiagnosis by seeing a specialist in the disease who is more familiar with this type of cancer and the different therapies available to you.