It is very difficult to diagnose mesothelioma in its early stages because there are no symptoms. Doctors occasionally find tumors or growths when they are examining the lungs to pinpoint a different issue, but early detection is very rare. There is no effective screening process or test for mesothelioma, and the patient does not feel anything until the cancer reaches its later stages.
Symptoms start to appear only after the tumors have grown so large that they interfere with breathing or press on organs or nerves, causing enough pain that the patient is compelled to seek help. In the late stages of mesothelioma, treatment options are limited.
Mesothelioma is a relatively rare disease, and the symptoms are common to many different conditions, so it often takes the doctor some time to narrow down a correct Mesothelioma diagnosis. The doctor asks a number of questions and runs a battery of tests. It helps speed the process if the patient can tell the doctor he was exposed to asbestos. If the doctor arrives at a diagnosis of mesothelioma or other cancer, he is most likely to refer the patient to an oncologist, a doctor who specializes in cancer.
The oncologist uses a number of techniques to verify a mesothelioma diagnosis. Testing may include a CT scan or X-ray for the doctor to visually examine the lungs for indications of tumors or irregular shape. He will usually order a biopsy, which is a minor surgical procedure that takes a sample of the affected tissue for examination. Another common diagnostic tool is a thoracoscopy or laparoscopy, used to drain fluid from the affected area. This procedure relieves some of the pressure to help the patient breathe and provides liquid that can be tested for cancerous cells.
Waiting for test results can be one of the most difficult and stressful times in a person’s life. It can take weeks for the results to come in, and when they finally arrive, the doctor may order additional tests before offering a final mesothelioma diagnosis. It’s nerve-wracking, but the wait is normal, and nothing can be done to speed the process.
Once the test results are in and the mesothelioma diagnosis is finalized, the doctor will schedule a visit to discuss the results and treatment options. The patient learns how long the doctor expects him to live, what options are available for treatment, medication, or surgery, and how to proceed. The next step is to assemble a team and start treatment and care. Some patients will be referred to palliative or hospice care, others will be scheduled for more aggressive treatment. The health and age of the patient and the stage of the disease are important considerations for treatment options.