Upon the onset of mesothelioma symptoms such as chest pain or a chronic cough, patients typically make a doctor’s appointment. To gain a clear understanding of what the diagnosis may be, the doctor orders various testing. Imaging tests like X-rays or CT scans may be the first indicator that mesothelioma exists.
Mesothelioma Diagnostic Imaging Tests
The process of diagnosing mesothelioma begins with a few questions asked by a doctor. Though every patient is different, doctors will use questions to narrow down a possible diagnosis before ordering imaging tests, blood tests, or biopsies. These questions may address a previous history of asbestos exposure or smoking. Some common mesothelioma symptoms could be related to other diseases.
After a physical examination of the heart, lungs, and other organs, doctors will order imaging scans to confirm a diagnosis, followed by a biopsy to collect tissue and determine which mesothelioma cell type is present. Imaging tests that can detect the exact location of the mesothelioma include X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, or PET scans.
Using X-Rays and CT Scans to Detect Mesothelioma
X-rays are low-resolution, low-radiation images that produce a two-dimensional image of the body. Doctors can detect irregularities in tissue or bones that can indicate the presence of cancers, such as mesothelioma. X-ray images show fluid buildup, pleural thickening, pleural plaques, tumors, and other irregularities in or near the lungs that can indicate the presence of mesothelioma.
Computed tomography (CT) scans combine computer software with rotating X-rays to merge hundreds of X-ray images into highly defined pictures of the body. CT scans show more detailed images of abnormalities, making the diagnosis process easier. A mesothelioma CT scan can last up to 30 minutes and utilizes a large machine.
Positron emission tomography (PET) scans use a radioactive chemical injected into the body, called a radiotracer, that attaches to areas of irregular metabolic activity. About an hour after the radiotracer is injected, the affected organs or tissues will show up on a scan.
A magnetic resonance image (MRI) uses computer technology combined with powerful magnetic fields to create high-resolution images of the affected areas. Doctors use MRIs to determine where the affected tissue or cells are, often giving them an idea of where to collect biopsies.
Which is Better at Diagnosing Mesothelioma?
X-rays are often the first imaging scan used in the process of diagnosing mesothelioma. However, X-rays only provide limited information. Standard X-rays do help discover pleural effusions and common early signs of mesothelioma.
Thin white areas on standard X-rays can mean tumor growth is present, while healthy lungs appear black. If an X-ray detects abnormalities in the chest, the doctor will order more advanced imaging tests. CT and PET scans give a precise location on cancer when combined with the contrast dye.
Imaging tests alone are not enough to diagnose mesothelioma. While imaging tests are important for determining the stage of mesothelioma, biopsies are the gold standard for a mesothelioma diagnosis.