Mesothelioma Symptoms and Diagnosis

Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer affecting the membrane lining of the lungs and abdomen.

Malignant mesothelioma is the most serious of all asbestos-related diseases. Although uncommon, mesothelioma cancer is no longer considered rare. The primary cause and risk factor for mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos.

Making a correct mesothelioma diagnosis is particularly difficult for doctors because the disease often presents with symptoms that mimic other common ailments. There is no known cure for mesothelioma, but treatments such as surgery and chemotherapy have helped to improve the typical mesothelioma prognosis.

Pleural mesothelioma (affecting the lung’s protective lining in the chest cavity) represents about three quarters of all mesothelioma incidence. Peritoneal mesothelioma which affects the abdominal cavity and pericardial mesothelioma, which affects the cardiac cavity, comprise the remainder. Testicular mesothelioma is extremely rare and typically presents with metastases of the peritoneal variety. There are three recognized mesothelioma cell-types. Between 50 and 70% of all mesotheliomas are of the epithelial variety. While prognosis is generally poor, it is considered less aggressive than sarcomatoid mesothelioma and biphasic mesothelioma, which comprise the remainder of cell type diagnoses.
Mesothelioma is diagnosed through a comprehensive combination of biopsy and imaging scans.

Mesothelioma can be a difficult malignancy to diagnose because the symptoms and pathology of the disease closely resemble other respiratory conditions. For this reason, misdiagnosis is not uncommon in mesothelioma patients. Symptoms of mesothelioma include chest pain, chronic cough, effusions of the chest and abdomen, and the presence of blood in lung fluid.

Diagnostic surgeries, including a biopsy, will typically be required to determine the type of malignant cells that are present in the body. Typically a body imaging scan, including a magnetic resonance image (MRI) or computer topography (CT scan) will be required to determine the extent and location of the disease.

Mesothelioma patients are generally referred by their personal physicians to one of the many renowned mesothelioma doctors in the United States. These oncologists are well versed in the disease behavior and pathology and are the most familiar with cutting-edge mesothelioma treatment options. Dr. David Sugarbaker of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, an extension of Harvard University and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, MA, is at the forefront of mesothelioma treatment through the International Mesothelioma Program.