Receiving the wrong diagnosis can have deadly consequences, yet it happens to mesothelioma patients often. Misdiagnosis may occur when a patient presents mesothelioma symptoms that are similar to stomach cancer.
Mesothelioma vs. Stomach Cancer Causes
Mesothelioma and stomach cancer are two very different diseases despite both being cancer and some of the symptoms being similar. They have different causes and symptoms and also require their own methods of diagnosis and staging.
Most importantly, stomach cancer and mesothelioma also have unique treatment strategies, making it critical that a patient is diagnosed with the correct form of cancer as quickly as possible. This can be done by seeking a second opinion from a doctor that specializes in mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is caused by a cell mutation triggered by asbestos exposure. When people inhale asbestos fibers, those fibers can get stuck in the natural lining of the abdomen, heart or lungs.
Over the course of 1 to 5 decades, the lodged fibers mutate nearby cells, transforming them into cancer cells that multiply and spread throughout the body. Mesothelioma in the abdomen is called peritoneal mesothelioma and is the most likely form of mesothelioma to be mistaken for stomach cancer.
Stomach Cancer Causes
Like mesothelioma, stomach cancer is caused by a mutation in the DNA of cells. While scientists have yet to discover exactly why this mutation occurs, several risk factors are linked to stomach cancer.
A diet that is high in processed or smoked foods has been linked to stomach cancer. Fortunately, modern preservation methods have shifted the global community towards refrigeration over traditional preservation, and stomach cancer rates have declined.
Additional known risk factors for stomach cancer include:
- Infection with Helicobacter pylori bacteria
- Low fruits and vegetable intake
- Poor nutrition
- Stomach polyps
- Chronic stomach inflammation
- A family history of stomach cancer
- Pernicious anemia
In most cases, stomach cancer originates in the stomach lining due to a DNA cell mutation. This is similar to mesothelioma because the cancer begins in the lining of an organ.
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Mesothelioma vs. Stomach Cancer Symptoms
In its earliest stages, peritoneal mesothelioma can be difficult to diagnose. The symptoms are often mild and can be easily mistaken for other health conditions including irritable bowel syndrome and celiac disease.
Common early symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma:
- Feeling Full
- Night Sweats
As peritoneal mesothelioma progresses and spreads beyond the abdomen, the above symptoms become more prominent, while more severe symptoms develop as well. The more severe symptoms are common signs of late-stage mesothelioma.
Symptoms of late-stage mesothelioma:
- Blood clots
- Sudden weight loss
- Stomach tissue lumps
- Obstructions in the intestine
People who were exposed to asbestos and display any of the above early or late stage symptoms should consider the possibility that they may have mesothelioma. Therefore, it’s important to discuss any asbestos exposure with a doctor and run diagnostic tests.
Stomach Cancer Symptoms
Stomach cancer has many of the same symptoms as early peritoneal mesothelioma, which is why it is possible for even the most experienced oncologists to misdiagnose the two. In fact, stomach cancer shares many symptoms with stomach cancer, while there are two symptoms that are only common in stomach cancer.
Shared symptoms of stomach cancer and mesothelioma:
- Feeling Full
- Night Sweats
Symptoms that are only common in stomach cancer:
- Severe indigestion that doesn’t go away
- Severe chronic heartburn
Patients who suspect they have stomach cancer should rule out a mesothelioma diagnosis and vice-versa. The symptoms of mesothelioma are very similar to stomach cancer symptoms.
Mesothelioma vs. Stomach Cancer Diagnosis
Mesothelioma is difficult to diagnose because it can’t be diagnosed without a biopsy of the infected cells. However, collecting cell samples from the abdominal lining is an invasive procedure and is usually the final step in diagnosing mesothelioma. A biopsy comes after other tests indicate a potential mesothelioma diagnosis.
Four stages of diagnosing mesothelioma:
- Physical Exam and History – A doctor will perform a physical exam and collect the patient’s complete medical history. If mesothelioma is suspected, the doctor will ask questions about asbestos exposure. However, mesothelioma is such a rare disease that patients should volunteer their own concerns about asbestos exposure, if applicable.
- Blood Tests – Biological and phlebotomy tests will be run to check for cancer indicators. In some cases, these tests will also attempt to identify specific biological markers or genes that have been linked to mesothelioma.
- Imaging Tests – Next, imaging tests will be used to see inside the patient’s body in an attempt to find tumors. However, mesothelioma tumors tend to grow as small nodules instead of large masses and can, therefore, be difficult to spot. Imaging tests may include CT, MRI, x-ray, PET or other specialized imaging techniques.
- Biopsy – The final step in diagnosing mesothelioma is a biopsy. With a biopsy, collected cell samples will be sent to a pathologist who will look at the cells under a microscope and confirm whether they look like mesothelioma cells. In some cases, mesothelioma specialists who are confident in their early diagnosis will perform a biopsy while also performing the initial surgical treatment.
Stomach Cancer Diagnosis
Stomach cancer is typically easier to diagnose than mesothelioma. The three most common procedures used to diagnose stomach cancer are a CT scan, barium swallow exam and upper endoscopy.
With a CT scan, an image is taken of the stomach and then examined. Stomach cancer often causes a physical deformity of the stomach itself, which makes it possible to identify using this type of imaging scan.
A barium swallow, or barium meal x-ray, is a special type of exam in which patients swallow barium before an x-ray. The barium lights up the stomach on the x-ray, making it easier for oncologists to look for abnormalities in the scan. However, the barium swallow exams are becoming less popular.
With an upper endoscopy, a small camera on a tube is placed down the throat and into the stomach, giving doctors a direct look at the inside of the stomach to see whether signs of cancer are present. If cancer is suspected, a tissue sample will be collected and sent to a pathologist for review.
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Mesothelioma vs. Stomach Cancer Treatment
Mesothelioma is aggressive cancer which requires an equally aggressive treatment plan. Mesothelioma specialists have developed a trimodal treatment approach that is used to give patients their best chance of survival.
Trimodal treatments include:
Surgery is usually performed first. A surgeon will visually seek out the mesothelioma tumors in the abdomen, surgically removing every tumor they find. HIPEC, or heated chemotherapy, is sometimes performed next. With HIPEC, the abdomen is soaked in a chemotherapy solution, essentially bathing the organs in cancer-destroying medication.
Heated chemotherapy, or HIPEC, is an innovative procedure that was developed to destroy mesothelioma cells that are left behind after surgery. Unlike traditional IV or oral chemotherapy, heated chemotherapy can get into all the nooks and crannies of the abdomen, resulting in direct contact with the mesothelioma cells.
After the surgical solutions are performed, many oncologists will alternate chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatments. Like HIPEC, these treatments are meant to destroy any cells that couldn’t be removed during surgery, and help slow or eliminate the mutation and growth of new cells.
Newer treatment methods, including biological therapy, immunotherapy and targeted therapy may also be used. Many variations of these treatments are still in a clinical trial to help improve overall success rates and find an eventual tried-and-true cure for mesothelioma.
Stomach Cancer Treatment
Stomach cancer treatment follows the same general concept as mesothelioma treatment. Surgery is performed first to remove visible cancer tumors, and then radiation therapy, chemotherapy or both.
The specific surgery performed for stomach cancer will vary depending on the location and extent of the disease. There are four common surgical options.
Stomach cancer surgical options:
- Remove the entire stomach
- Remove part of the stomach
- Remove tumors from the stomach lining
- Remove lymph nodes
Once the surgery is complete, patients are likely to receive radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Some specific strains of stomach cancer may also be treated with targeted therapy, in conjunction with chemotherapy.
Patient Advocates Are Available
The correct diagnosis is required to receive the best treatment possible. If you have been diagnosed with stomach cancer, you should speak to a mesothelioma specialist for a second opinion.Contact us at (800) 584-4151 or receive our FREE Mesothelioma Help Guide to help understand your options for a second opinion.