If it is suspected that someone has mesothelioma, or any other form of cancer, a number of tests will be ordered. Many of the tests are non-invasive and they help physicians to determine the cause of certain symptoms. It is important that these tests, which include MRIs, CT scans and x-rays, are carried out, because the symptoms of mesothelioma are often misdiagnosed as being something much less serious. It is not entirely clear which type of scan is the best, with different physicians having different opinions.


The x-ray is the most basic but highly effective form of imaging scan. Although limited, it can show abnormalities and damage in the body. However, the image is always flat and two-dimensional, which means it may not pick everything up. Although radiation is used with this, it is not at a level that could cause damage to the human body, or at least not in a single scan.

Healthy lungs will appear in black on an x-ray. If there is a problem, however, a white shadow will occur. This is indicative of a tumor being present. Additionally, the diaphragm is likely to be elevated.

CT Scans

CT stands for ‘computed tomography’. It uses x-ray technology to take images of the inside of the body. It is classed as one of the best scans in terms of determining whether cancer is present, because it can provide very detailed images. The procedure is completely painless. A patient will first be given a contrast agent, which will make certain body parts more visible. Usually, this dye contains iodine or barium, which can be swallowed or injected, if it has to reach a specific site. The CT scan works on tumors, tissues, and organs and creates cross-sectional images. The machine essentially takes many images for a duration of 30 minutes to one hour. These are put together to create a 3D image of the area in question. Although the images are in black in white, they enable physicians to detect cancer more quickly than ever before. It is particularly suitable when a tumor is suspected in the abdomen or chest, which is where mesothelioma is most common as well. Furthermore, the CT scan helps physicians to determine at what stage the cancer is, and whether or not it has started to spread.

MRI Scans

MRI stands for ‘magnetic resonance imaging’, which uses a form of radiation to take pictures of the body. The hydrogen atoms in the human body react to the signals, emitted as radio waves, and a computer can then analyze this. MRI scans do not cause any harm to the body, making them safer than x-rays. An MRI scan is very noisy, but is not painful in anyway. Some people do experience brief flashes of light, a metallic taste, nausea, and dizziness. The scan creates high resolution images of soft tissue and bones.

Although it can take quite a long time to complete an MRI scan, it is one of the best technologies to differentiate between the various types of tissues in the body, including cancerous tissues. It is also very useful in terms of detecting cancers early. This is very important with mesothelioma, as it is often only discovered in very late stages, when prognosis is very poor.

PET Scans

The PET scan is one of the most widely used scans in the detection of mesothelioma. PET stands for ‘positron emission tomography’. To complete the scan, a radioactive tracer isotope is first injected into the patient’s body, usually together with glucose. After a certain period of time, the gamma radiation that the tissues produce can be detected, enabling the PET scanners to create an image in stunning detail about the body. This scan enables doctors to find even the smallest of tumors in the body.

Essentially, the scanning technique combines the strength of the CT scan and the MRI scan. In so doing, the PET scan enables biological processes to show up, and these can then be compared to the results of the CT scan. It is even possible to complete both scans at virtually the same time, which means that the patient doesn’t have to be moved. In so doing, the results from both scans are properly aligned and accurate.

In terms of mesothelioma staging, it is generally accepted that the PET scan is the most powerful tool. It is also for this reason that mesothelioma patients are routinely offered these scans in order to see how their cancer is progressing. The PET scan has proven to be very effective in terms of staging cancer, and also in terms of determining whether the cancer has started to spread.

In most cases, someone who is suspected of having mesothelioma will be offered all of the above tests. Some physicians will instantly refer their patients for all the tests, while others will weigh the diagnosis of one test before sending the patient on to the next one. For instance, an x-ray is generally the type of scan that is offered first and, if shadows are indeed detected on it, they will then ask for a CT scan or MRI scan to be completed as well. The PET scan is generally offered once it has been determined that mesothelioma is in fact present, as it helps to determine which stage the cancer is currently in, and whether or not it has started to spread. Because mesothelioma is usually caught in significantly advanced stages, the prognosis is very poor. If caught early, however, significant treatment options can be put into place to enhance someone’s quality of life and even to improve overall prognosis and outcomes. While mesothelioma remains a very lethal form of cancer, early diagnostics can be the key to offering the patient a much better chance of fighting against this type of cancer.