Pleural Mesothelioma Diagnosis
Although it is a very serious form of cancer that affects the lungs and chest cavity, diagnosis and treatment for Pleural Mesothelioma is often delayed. This happens mainly because the symptoms of this disease can be so mild that people do not seek medical attention right away. Symptoms like coughing, difficulty breathing and mild chest pain are bothersome, but easy to ignore at first.
Getting an early and accurate diagnosis of Pleural Mesothelioma is essential and offers the best chance for a patient to manage this disease. Timing is the worst aspect of this disease, because it usually takes decades for symptoms to become noticeable. The diagnostic process may also be lengthy and sometime it is incorrect, because the symptoms can be mistaken for other less serious conditions.
Malignant Mesothelioma affects the thin layers of tissue (mesothelial tissues) that cover most internal organs. It is a cancer that can also spread to other parts of the body, so early detection and treatment is highly important. Unfortunately, with the long time it takes for symptoms to develop, the disease is difficult to treat and it has a poor prognosis for survival.
There are three main types of Mesothelioma cancer: Pleural, Peritoneal, and Pericardial. These cancers affect the lungs and chest wall, abdomen and heart, respectively. Of this group, Pleural Mesothelioma is the most prevalent, affecting about 70% of Mesothelioma patients.
- Causes – Mesothelioma cancers generally are caused by asbestos material fibers that enter the body and become lodged in the thin tissue linings of various organs, including the lungs, abdomen or heart. Since it is usually inhaled, the lungs are the recipient of most fiber particles and those particles cause Pleural Mesothelioma when they lodge in the pleural lining. Millions of people were exposed during the mid-20th Century as they mined, handled or were exposed to products containing asbestos minerals, such as building materials, tiles, shingles, flooring and vehicle brakes or clutches. Still others were exposed to asbestos fibers released from the clothing or hair of those workers. The tiny lightweight particles get into the air and are then unknowingly inhaled or ingested.
- Development Time – The biggest problem in diagnosing Mesothelioma is the long period of time between exposure and development of symptoms that would prompt a person to seek medical attention. In many cases, this time period was from 30 to 50 years before symptom development. Early attention and treatment is essential, but with this long delay, this cancer is often too advanced to curtail.
- Symptoms – Pleural Mesothelioma symptoms are similar to symptoms of other lung-related diseases, so an accurate diagnosis often is delayed. Typical symptoms involve breathing, coughing and other problems related to the function of lungs. The patient may have difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, coughing, or pain in the chest area under the ribs. Other symptoms include lumps under the skin of the chest area and unexplained weight loss.
Pleural Mesothelioma Diagnosis
Obtaining a diagnosis starts with a complete medical and work history. It is essential to report any possible contact with asbestos products or particles, either from your own activities or contact with others who were exposed. If there is any such history at all, you or your doctor will want to consult with specialists or a cancer center to determine if there should be a diagnosis of Pleural Mesothelioma. Since this disease has symptoms that closely resemble symptoms of other lung or respiratory ailments, misdiagnosis is very possible.
Many diagnostic tests for Pleural Mesothelioma are used to assess the stage and development of this disease. Typical tests a doctor may order including imaging scans, blood tests and biopsies.
- X-ray – These tests help view suspicious areas, how far a cancer has spread, and if treatment is working. Chest X-ray may show any abnormalities of the pleura and lungs, including fluid between the lungs and chest wall.
- CT Scan – These can show exact location of cancer in a detailed cross-section view. The can help determine the stage of cancer, if it has spread to other organs, if chemotherapy is working, and if surgery is an option for treatment.
- MRI – Another method for obtaining detailed images of soft tissues, similar to CT scans.
- PET Scan – Similar to the PET scan; provides information about abnormal areas and if a thickening is cancer or scar tissue.
Blood Tests – These look for biomarkers in the bloodstream.
Biopsies – Tissue samples are studied under a microscope.
Diagnosis of Pleural Mesothelioma may require multiple types of tests, but this is important for determining the best course of treatment to remove, reduce or monitor cancerous growths, and to assess the progression of this disease.
Treatment for Pleural Mesothelioma
As soon as diagnosis of Pleural Mesothelioma is confirmed, treatment is advised. The patient will work with their doctor and specialists to fight this disease and extend lifetime survival rates. Once Pleural Mesothelioma has been diagnosed, doctors will determine a course of treatment. If the cancer is discovered early, surgical removal may offer the best and immediate results.
Chemotherapy and/or radiation are additional options to use after surgery or when surgery is not an option. Aggressive treatments may be performed in early stage Mesothelioma patients, including extrapleural pneumonectomy, which is the complete removal of the affected lung, pericardium, pleura and diaphragm.
Another option for many patients is to participate in clinical trials that are seeking new ways to defeat this disease. Testing of new drugs and other therapies that may be successful are part of the clinical trial process; participants may benefit from effective new drugs that are not available elsewhere at that time.
Mesothelioma in general has a poor prognosis for survival. Of the various forms of this disease, Pleural Mesothelioma is the most deadly, and it affects about 70% of persons with Mesothelioma cancer. Survival rates, however, are based on studies done in past years. It is possible that improvements have occurred since those studies were conducted. Those studies did show that the survival rates associated with the 4 stages of cancer development ranged from 21 months at stage 1, to 12 months at stage 4. There also has been a 5 year survival rate of 5% to 10%. Older patients have a lower survival rate; many Mesothelioma patients are already over age 65 when symptoms occur and diagnosis of this cancer is made.
Getting an early and accurate diagnosis is essential for treatment and management of Pleural Mesothelioma. If you have any symptoms that include shortness of breath, coughing, pain in the chest area or lumps under the skin at the chest area, do not hesitate to consult with your doctor immediately.