All patients should be well versed in what to expect during a mesothelioma diagnosis. Having clear expectations can help you and your family feel more in control over your health during this difficult time.
4 Mesothelioma Diagnosis Tests
While a patient is in the process of being diagnosed, they will see a variety of different doctors who will conduct a series of tests from a physical examination, to image tests, blood and biomarker tests and finally biopsies.
Here’s what to expect during a mesothelioma diagnosis and what doctors look for at each step.
1. Physical Examination
In the physical examination, the doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms. For example, if you are having trouble breathing and are tired all the time, they will want to know how long your symptoms have persisted.
The doctor will also listen to your chest or abdomen to check for any fluid buildup (pleural effusion). And if you have been complaining of abdominal pain—a symptom of peritoneal mesothelioma—the doctor will tap your abdomen to see if it causes any pain or other signs.
If you suspect that you might have mesothelioma, it’s crucial for you to mention to the examining doctor that you have a history of asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma often mimics other more common diseases, which can lead to a misdiagnosis.
2. Imaging Scans and Tests
After the physical examination, the doctor will send you for imaging tests.
Imaging tests look different depending on whether you’re suffering symptoms in your abdomen, lungs or heart.
- Pleural mesothelioma imaging tests are often chest x-rays, CT scans or PET scans
- Peritoneal mesothelioma imaging tests might be abdomen x-rays, CT scans or MRI
- Pericardial mesothelioma imaging tests are typically CT scans or echocardiograms
It’s important to point out that being sent for imaging tests doesn’t mean your doctor already suspects mesothelioma. At this stage, doctors are merely looking for abnormalities—not necessarily cancer.
Depending on the test it can take a few hours to a week for the results to get back to your doctor.
3. Blood and Biomarker Tests
If a tumor showed up in the imaging test, the doctor will request blood and biomarker tests. These tests are looking for proteins and other substances that occur in greater quantities when someone has cancer.
Depending on the test your doctor might have the results back within 24 hours or after several weeks.
If the blood and biomarker tests seem to indicate mesothelioma, the final and the only conclusive test is a biopsy. In biopsies, a small tissue sample is removed from the cancer site. A pathologist studies the sample under a microscope to determine the type of cancer cells present—a field of medicine call histology.
While you are probably ready to know the results of your biopsy instantly, it can take up to 10 days for the results to come back.
Sometimes doctors will order a cytology test, which is when they drain fluid from the chest, abdomen or heart and examine it for mesothelioma. However, cytology testing is not as accurate as biopsies for diagnosing mesothelioma because the fluid tends to contain few mesothelioma cells.
Challenges to Expect
Throughout the diagnosis process, it’s normal to experience some setbacks. Possible challenges patients can expect during a mesothelioma diagnosis include:
- Your test results might be unclear causing you to require further testing.
- You might be misdiagnosed with something like coronary artery disease, irritable bowel syndrome or lung cancer, which means you might have to convince your doctor to re-examine the information with an open mind or seek a different opinion.
- If you are diagnosed with mesothelioma, the doctor might misdiagnose the stage of your mesothelioma or its cell type (for example, they might say you have epithelioid mesothelioma when you actually have mixed).
Once You’ve Received a Diagnosis
After you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma, it’s essential to get a second opinion. You will need to meet with a doctor who specializes in your exact diagnosis (for example, a doctor who specializes in stage 2 mixed pleural mesothelioma) so you can start a treatment that is tailored to your exact disease.
Getting diagnosed with mesothelioma is a complicating process that can be quite stressful and intimidating. However, we encourage you to ask questions about what to expect during a mesothelioma diagnosis and get clarification if there’s anything you don’t understand. This way you can take ownership of the process and feel empowered to make decisions about your health.
If you have concerns about what to expect during a mesothelioma diagnosis, contact our Patient Advocates today. You can call us at (800) 584-4151 or request a FREE Mesothelioma Help Guide for a full outline of your next steps after a diagnosis.