The Mesothelioma Journey: Diagnosis
Welcome to part three of our five-part blog series: The Mesothelioma Journey. Follow along each week as we recreate the mesothelioma journey of Allen, a 65-year-old from Corpus Christi, Texas. We follow Allen’s journey from the first contact with asbestos to coping mentally after treatment.
Go back to part two of the Mesothelioma Journey: Early Symptoms of Mesothelioma
Read part four of the Mesothelioma Journey: Treatment Plan
Symptoms Lead to Early Mesothelioma Diagnosis
A person usually begins noticing symptoms after developing mesothelioma. As symptoms become persistent, they typically go to their doctor for early screenings and tests. The doctor will decide which tests to give after asking the patient some questions.
Doctors typically administer imaging tests to see potentially cancerous activity in the body. Upon the discovery of unusual or unclear imaging results, the doctor will likely administer a biopsy, which is the most efficient way to test for mesothelioma. A biopsy is the most accurate way to diagnose cancer.
Once the information from the biopsy becomes available from the lab, the doctor will give a diagnosis of the patient’s condition, which typically consists of a medical assessment and a description of what illness the patient has.
Allen’s doctor orders a chest x-ray once he explains his symptoms. Findings from the x-ray show abnormal thickening of the pleura and fluid in the space between the lungs and the chest wall. Digital images of Allen’s x-rays indicate two small tumors, according to the radiologist. At this point, Allen’s doctor asks him about his medical history and possible risk factors, including exposure to asbestos.
Not All Mesothelioma Cases Are Easy to Diagnose
Allen’s doctor orders a thoracentesis, a form of biopsy that removes fluid from the chest. The lab tests the fluid via a microscope and finds mesothelioma cancer cells. The doctor determines Allen has stage 2 pleural mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is difficult to diagnose and sometimes misdiagnosed as other forms of cancer. More tests are needed once a patient confirms an asbestos exposure history. Diagnostic tests may include additional imaging tests, blood tests, and biopsies.
“You have to have an adequate biopsy to make a diagnosis of mesothelioma. Considering that most of these are pleural, you would think the most obvious thing is involving the lung pleura, just by incidence, right? It’s much more common.
The first thing that comes to anyone’s mind; we just had an outside pathologist calling it adenocarcinoma. When you look at it and we had biopsies done in-house and it doesn’t look like adenocarcinoma, they are cousins and they look very similar, but they have a completely different immune profile the way they mark and behave. That’s the first diagnostic consideration.
In mesothelioma when you get biopsies you are not sure if it is actually a mesothelial proliferation or if it’s malignant. So whether it’s benign or malignant, that becomes for the pathologist, the biggest challenge sometimes.”
– Vijayalakshmi Ananthanarayanan, MD
Surgical Pathologist | Loyola University Medical Center
Stage 2 mesothelioma is considered an early-stage mesothelioma diagnosis, where there is limited spreading throughout the body. Of the four stages of pleural mesothelioma, the second stage is relatively treatable, since tumors haven’t spread past the chest cavity.
Coping With a Mesothelioma Diagnosis
While doctors usually recommend curative treatments for stage 2 mesothelioma, Allen has trouble coping with his diagnosis. He is looking at a long road of treatment ahead of him, including surgery and chemotherapy with the possibility of more treatment. He turns to family to help him cope.
A person who provides support or care for a cancer patient is considered a “caregiver.” A caregiver may be a spouse, family member, or a close friend to the patient.
As a patient progresses through treatment, caregivers are essential for providing support. Various resources and support groups are available to mesothelioma patients and their caregivers. There is help beginning at all stages of the mesothelioma journey, including surviving mesothelioma cancer.
Moving forward, Allen will need all the support he can get as he approaches the fourth stage in his journey; treatment for pleural mesothelioma.