Due to its long silent period, mesothelioma is often diagnosed after it has reached an advanced stage. In fact, the disease is often detected during examination for other common diseases such as influenza and pneumonia. In the U.S., about 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year.
Diagnostic procedures commonly performed to diagnose mesothelioma include:
PET scan – the positron emission tomography (PET) scan allows your physician to visualize the size of the tumor and organs affected. This exam also helps your oncologist to determine the type of treatment to use to better combat the disease.
Chest x-ray – this radiographic exam is often included in the diagnosis of mesothelioma. Along with the PET scan, chest X-ray helps your oncologist to detect pleural thickening, which can indicate presence of asbestos particles.
Biopsy – several types of biopsy can be done:
Thoracoscopy – the thoracoscopy is an important exam in the diagnosis of mesothelioma. It helps your physician to do an assessment of the spreading of the tumor and determine the type of treatment will be most appropriate. It is a surgical procedure during which a tiny video camera is inserted into your chest cavity which allows the surgeon not only to visualize your chest tissue but also to take sample for laboratory analysis.
Laparoscopy – while you are under anesthesia, your surgeon makes small incisions into your abdomen, and then inserts a tiny video camera called endoscope. This procedure allows him to observe the abdominal cavity and remove samples of tissue. The tissue samples collected are then analyzed under a microscope to search for cancer cells.
Thoracotomy – this procedure is performed, under anesthesia, by a specialist in thoracic surgery. The surgeon makes an incision in your chest wall to examine the thoracic organs: heart, lungs, esophagus, thoracic aorta, and the inner part of the vertebral column. If he finds abnormalities that indicate mesothelioma, he will take sample for testing.
Laparotomy – During this procedure, your surgeon makes a large opening in your abdomen from the pubis to the sternum. This incision allows him to have direct access to the abdominal and pelvic organs. Sample will be taken to be examined under microscope to search for asbestos fiber or cancer cells.