Mesothelioma Misdiagnosis

Quick Summary

Mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed due to its rarity and nonspecific symptoms, which are shared with more common illnesses. A mesothelioma misdiagnosis can lead to delayed treatment and lower life expectancy. Individuals suffering from symptoms of mesothelioma can receive a more accurate diagnosis by getting a second opinion from a mesothelioma specialist.

Get a FREE Veterans Packet

Can Mesothelioma Be Misdiagnosed?

Yes, mesothelioma can be misdiagnosed. A patient’s mesothelioma type and symptoms play a part in determining what their misdiagnosis may be.

Pleural mesothelioma (cancer of the lining of the lungs) presents multiple symptoms related to the lungs and respiratory system. For this reason, patients with this cancer may be misdiagnosed with another type of lung-related disease.

Learn More About Pleural Mesothelioma Misdiagnosis

Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma (cancer of the lining of the abdomen) largely affect the stomach and digestive system, causing some patients to be misdiagnosed with another abdominal condition.

Learn More About Peritoneal Mesothelioma Misdiagnosis

Why Is Mesothelioma Misdiagnosed?

There are three primary reasons why a general doctor or oncologist may misdiagnose mesothelioma.

1. Mesothelioma Is Rare

Mesothelioma is a very rare type of cancer so it isn’t something primary care doctors come into contact with on a regular basis. In turn, physicians don’t always think to check for it when patients report symptoms.

Annual Diagnoses in the U.S.

Heart failure 550,000
Lung cancer 228,820
Ovarian cancer 21,750
Mesothelioma 3,000
*Sources: American Cancer Society, National Institutes of Health

Even if a doctor is able to identify mesothelioma right away, they can still make mistakes in the staging of the disease, potentially leading to improper treatment. Getting a second opinion from an experienced mesothelioma doctor can help ensure a proper diagnosis, stage, and treatment plan.

2. Mesothelioma Has a Long Latency Period

Mesothelioma usually doesn’t develop until 20-50 years after initial exposure to asbestos (the only known cause of this cancer). This long gap between exposure and symptoms, called latency period, can make it difficult to draw a connection between the two.

3. Mesothelioma Has Vague Symptoms

Mesothelioma symptoms may resemble more common diseases.

For example, the symptoms of pleural mesothelioma are often the same as or similar to the symptoms of pneumonia. For symptoms in the abdomen, like those that come with peritoneal mesothelioma, doctors may be more likely to suspect irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Both the symptoms you present and your chance of misdiagnosis may depend on what type of mesothelioma you have.

Getting a Second Opinion

After receiving a diagnosis, don’t hesitate to seek advice from another doctor who specializes in mesothelioma.

Getting a mesothelioma second opinion is important because:

  • It provides peace of mind that a proper diagnosis was made
  • It could result in a different diagnosis that’s more favorable
  • It could open up different treatment options (such as new treatments from clinical trials)

If you believe you may have been misdiagnosed, a second opinion from a specialized mesothelioma doctor can help ensure you have an accurate diagnosis and maximize your treatment options.

Pleural Mesothelioma Misdiagnosis

Pleural mesothelioma may be misdiagnosed as:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Lung cancer
  • Influenza
  • Emphysema
  • Pneumonia
  • Other respiratory conditions

Not only can pleural mesothelioma be misdiagnosed as an entirely different cancer or illness, but its stages can also be misdiagnosed.

Common symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include shortness of breath, pain when breathing, a persistent dry and raspy cough, and fluid buildup in the lungs (pleural effusion).

These symptoms are shared with many other, more common respiratory conditions, making a pleural mesothelioma misdiagnosis a possibility for many patients.

Misdiagnosing Pleural Mesothelioma Stage

If a doctor misdiagnoses a pleural mesothelioma stage as more or less advanced than it really is, patients may not be able to receive the most effective mesothelioma treatment options.

For example, life-extending mesothelioma surgery is usually restricted to early-stage patients. An accurate stage diagnosis can mean the difference between a life expectancy of months or years.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Misdiagnosis

Peritoneal mesothelioma may be misdiagnosed as:

  • Ovarian cancer
  • Hernia
  • Gallstones
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

The symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma include pain in the abdomen, swelling, and nausea — the same symptoms caused by ovarian cancer and other abdominal conditions.

“I went back to have another X-ray and another CT scan, and they also drew blood to do blood workup to make sure that it was [peritoneal] mesothelioma because they said it could be that, or I could have Crohn’s disease.”

– Brenda W., Peritoneal Mesothelioma Patient

Mesothelioma Misdiagnosis of Rare Types

Pericardial mesothelioma (cancer of the lining of the heart) and testicular mesothelioma (cancer of the lining of the testes) are two of the rarest forms of this cancer, with both types making up around 1% of all mesothelioma cases each year.

This extreme rarity makes them even easier to misdiagnose than other mesothelioma types.

Pericardial Mesothelioma Misdiagnosis

Pericardial mesothelioma may be misdiagnosed as:

  • Angiosarcoma
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart disease
  • Late-stage lung cancer

Pericardial mesothelioma symptoms include chest pain, coughing, and difficulty breathing, which are often mistaken for other heart and lung issues. Most cases of pericardial mesothelioma are only properly diagnosed after surgery for the misdiagnosed disease or an autopsy.

Testicular Mesothelioma Misdiagnosis

Testicular mesothelioma may be misdiagnosed as:

  • Epididymitis
  • Hernia
  • Infection
  • Physical trauma
  • Testicular cyst

Testicular mesothelioma can present as swelling in the scrotum (hydrocele), which is often a mild condition rarely caused by cancer. For this reason, doctors may not think to test patients with this symptom for any kind of cancer.

Misdiagnosing Mesothelioma Cell Type

In addition to a misdiagnosis of mesothelioma type/location, doctors may also misdiagnose mesothelioma cell types, which are classified as epithelioid, sarcomatoid, or mixed/biphasic. This misdiagnosis can influence a patient’s prognosis and treatment options.

Patients with epithelioid mesothelioma cells usually have the most treatment options, so a misdiagnosis could mean fewer curative treatment options.

Similarly, if a patient with sarcomatoid mesothelioma is wrongly diagnosed, they could be put through a rigorous treatment schedule that’s ineffective.

In the case of biphasic mesothelioma (combination of epithelial and sarcomatoid cells), pathologists may diagnose it as purely one cell type, or they may misdiagnose the ratio of cells.

Getting the Right Mesothelioma Diagnosis

You can lower your risk of a mesothelioma misdiagnosis by getting a second opinion from a mesothelioma specialist. These doctors possess a deep knowledge of mesothelioma symptoms, staging, and cell types that general oncologists may lack.

Visit a Mesothelioma Specialist

If you or your loved one has a history of asbestos exposure and is experiencing mesothelioma symptoms, get examined by a doctor who specializes in diagnosing mesothelioma.

Did you know

Specialists can perform the appropriate diagnostic tests and look for small differences between mesothelioma and similar diseases.

Veterans can contact top mesothelioma specialists like Dr. Robert B. Cameron and Dr. Abraham “Avi” Lebenthal through the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Care System.

How Specialists Diagnose Mesothelioma

Physical Exam1

Physical Exam

To diagnose mesothelioma, a mesothelioma specialist begins by performing a physical exam, looking for symptoms that may help rule out other conditions.

Imaging Tests2

Imaging Tests

Imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs may be ordered to identify any abnormalities or tumors associated with mesothelioma.

Biopsy3

Biopsy

Doctors can acquire tissue samples from a suspected tumor through a biopsy. They then send the biopsy samples to a lab to look for mesothelioma cells.

A biopsy is the only way to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis.

Connect With a Mesothelioma Doctor

A misdiagnosis of mesothelioma can cost patients precious time that they may have been able to use to receive life-extending treatment. The best way to avoid misdiagnosis is to get tested by a mesothelioma specialist.

Experienced mesothelioma doctors practice across the United States, but finding a local expert may be difficult because mesothelioma is so rare.

Call us today at (877) 450-8973 for help finding a mesothelioma doctor near you.

Veterans Support Team
Todd Gersten, MD PhotoReviewed by:Todd Gersten, MD

Double Board-Certified Oncologist and Hematologist

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Todd Gersten, MD is a double board-certified medical oncologist and hematologist specializing in general adult oncology and hematologic disease. He is a physician partner with the Florida Cancer Specialists and practices in Wellington, Florida.

Dr. Todd Gersten is an independently paid medical reviewer.

Christopher Dryfoos PhotoWritten by:

Contributing Author

Christopher Dryfoos is a journalist and member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). As the grandson of the U.S. Navy’s first forensic pathologist, he aims to help veterans with mesothelioma access needed care.

View 6 Sources
  1. Torre, L. A., Trabert, B., DeSantis, C. E., Miller, K. D., Samimi, G., Runowicz, C. D., Gaudet, M. M., Jemal, A., & Siegel, R. L. (2018). Ovarian cancer statistics, 2018. CA: a cancer journal for clinicians, 68(4), 284–296. https://doi.org/10.3322/caac.21456
  2. Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Gallstones. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gallstones/symptoms-causes/syc-20354214
  3. American Cancer Society. (n.d.) Signs and Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/ovarian-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-and-symptoms.html
  4. American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Key Statistics for Lung Cancer. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/lung-cancer/about/key-statistics.html#
  5. Akin, Y., Bassorgun, I., Basara, I., & Yucel, S. (2015). Malignant mesothelioma of tunica vaginalis: an extremely rare case presenting without risk factors. Singapore medical journal, 56(3), e53–e55. https://doi.org/10.11622/smedj.2015053
  6. American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Test for Malignant Mesothelioma. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignant-mesothelioma/detection-diagnosis-staging/how-diagnosed.html
Back to Top