What Is Bronchoscopy?
Bronchoscopy is a kind of biopsy that is used in the diagnosis of mesothelioma. While uncommon, a doctor may recommend this test for diagnosing a variety of conditions, including some cancers. The procedure involves a specialist first injecting a sedative into your vein, subsequently inserting a small tube with a camera into the airway through the nose or mouth. Once here, the doctor can take a biopsy of the lung tissue for further testing.
Proper diagnosis of mesothelioma can be challenging. There are a variety of tests that have been developed to identify mesothelioma more efficiently, but the most accurate test available is a biopsy. These are usually needed to accurately diagnose mesothelioma, although since it’s an invasive procedure, other tests can be performed first to rule out the disease or continue testing.
Tests for Detecting Mesothelioma
This method of diagnosing mesothelioma is the most reliable and is usually needed for a formal diagnosis. It involves the doctor removing small amounts of tissue from the pleura and then sending the samples to a lab for researchers to observe under a microscope. The patient is generally sedated for this.
It’s more challenging to detect mesothelioma with a chest x-ray if the disease is at an earlier stage, but a chest x-ray is useful for detecting pleural effusion (fluid build-up in the pleura). This form of testing is non-invasive and doesn’t require an anesthetic.
A more accurate imaging test, a CT scan takes many x-rays of the inside of your body. The process begins with a doctor injecting a dye into your vein which makes it easier to see inside. Then the oncologist will get a better look at where the disease is or has spread. Like regular x-rays, no sedation for this is necessary.
If a mesothelioma diagnosis is unclear, the oncologist will need to administer more invasive tests to determine the patient’s condition. A mediastinoscopy helps the doctor observe the mediastinum, which encompasses the cardiac nerves, esophagus, heart, lymph nodes, thymus gland, and trachea of the central chest. The specialist inserts a telescope into the patient’s neck to observe the lymph glands. The specialist does this by making an incision at the base of your neck and inserting the telescope. They can also take a biopsy from the tissue.
When there’s a fluid build-up in the chest, the doctor will numb this area, and then gather sample fluid from inside the chest with a syringe to determine the patient’s condition.
Like a mediastinoscopy, a thoracoscopy involves patient sedation, and subsequently the insertion of a telescope into the patient’s chest. The doctor makes an incision between two ribs and then inserts the thoracoscope.
Bronchoscopies and Mesothelioma
A bronchoscopy isn’t a typical testing method for diagnosing mesothelioma because the test takes place in a patient’s breathing tubes, and the disease doesn’t spread inside the tubes. However, if a chest x-ray shows enlarged lymph nodes, or mediastinal lymphadenopathy, then a bronchoscopy can be performed instead of the more invasive mediastinoscopy.
Besides mesothelioma, several other conditions can cause mediastinal lymphadenopathy. Those causes could be:
- Acute lymphoblastic leukemia
- Anthracosis (“miner’s lung”)
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Cystic fibrosis
- Esophageal cancer
- Lung cancer
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Possible Bronchoscopy Risks
As with all invasive procedures, a bronchoscopy poses some risks to the patient. It’s important to follow your doctor’s recommendations on post-test care, which typically involves taking it easy for a couple of days after the procedure. Possible risks include, but are not limited to:
A minor side-effect, but small amounts of blood may show up in saliva afterward.
Infection can happen for several tests and treatments. If your phlegm (sputum) changes color or you experience loss of breath, this could be the signs of a chest infection. It’s highly suggested to see your doctor if these symptoms occur.
Need for More Oxygen
A patient may need the help of extra oxygen flow through a mask for a time after the bronchoscopy. This condition is more prone to patients who already need extra oxygen at home.
A very rare side-effect, a collapsed lung may happen if air or gas collects in the space around the lung. Warning signs for this may involve becoming short of breath or experiencing chest pain. Visit your doctor immediately if you experience these symptoms, the specialist may have to put a tube into the lung to remove excess air.
If you have doubts about your mesothelioma diagnosis or the process, you can seek out a second opinion from a different oncologist. Have a detailed chat with your doctor about options for diagnosing and treating your mesothelioma; you don’t have to go through this alone.