Mesothelioma Diagnosis

As is true with all asbestos related diseases, diagnosing mesothelioma can be quite difficult, as its symptoms can be similar to those of a number of other illnesses. A specialist in the oncology of asbestos related cancers is most likely to arrive at the most timely mesothelioma diagnosis. The process begins with a review of the patient's medical history, including any possible history of exposureto asbestos or asbestos containing products. X-rays of the chest or abdomen and lung function tests as well as a complete physical are usually taken. A CT, or CAT, (computerized axial tomography) scan or an MRI may also be employed. A CT scan is a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body created by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. In an MRI, a powerful magnet linked to a computer is used to make detailed pictures of areas inside the body. These pictures are viewed on a monitor and can also be printed.

In all cases, a biopsy is needed to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis. In a biopsy, a medical oncologist (a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating cancer) removes a sample of tissue for examination under a microscope by a pathologist. A biopsy may be done inusing different techiques, depending on where the abnormal area is located. If the cancer is in the chest, the doctor may perform a thoracoscopy. In this procedure, the doctor makes a small cut through the chest wall and puts a thin, lighted tube called a thoracoscope into the chest between two ribs. Thoracoscopy allows the doctor to look inside the chest and obtain tissue samples. If the cancer is in the abdomen, the doctor may perform a peritoneoscopy. To obtain tissue for examination, the doctor makes a small opening in the abdomen and inserts a special instrument called a peritoneoscope into the abdominal cavity. If these diagnostic procedures do not yield enough tissue, more extensive diagnostic surgery may be needed to confirm or rule out a mesothelioma diagnosis.

In the event of a definitive mesothelioma diagnosis, the doctor will want to learn the stage (or extent) of the disease. Determining the stage of the disease involves more tests in a careful attempt to find out whether the cancer has spread (metastasized) and, if so, to which parts of the body. Knowing the stage of the disease helps the doctor choose an appropriate plan of treatment.

A mesothelioma diagnosis is described as "localized" if the cancer is found only on the membrane surface where it originated. It is classified as advanced if it has spread beyond the original membrane surface to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes, lungs, chest wall, or abdominal organs.

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