Earlier this month, a group of researchers from Tunisia published their findings on a new diagnostic flowchart that could improve the way that pleural mesothelioma is diagnosed. If successful, this new method could lead to a better prognosis for patients with mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that traditionally comes with a short life expectancy.
One of the biggest problems with diagnosing mesothelioma, is that symptoms of the deadly cancer often mimic other diseases. In the early stages, symptoms can be mild, such as a cough or general fatigue. As time goes on, however, symptoms can become more severe, and doctors often confuse it with other lung conditions, such as pneumonia, asbestosis, or even lung cancer.
Given the problems with diagnosing mesothelioma, the only sure way to determine whether the problems are caused by cancer or something else is to perform a biopsy. These often invasive and painful procedures require taking a sample of suspected cancerous tissue so that it can be analyzed by an oncolytic pathologist. However, even this step can be fraught with problems, since it can be difficult to recognize very small differences between similar cell types.
This part of the process is where the Tunisian researchers believe they have found a way to standardize and improve the mesothelioma diagnosis process. Taking 30 different malignant pleural mesothelioma cases from over a 20-year period, the researchers performed what is known as an immunohistochemical study. The results of those studies provided them with data about the specific antibodies and other biomarkers that can help identify which mesothelioma cell types a tumor consists of.
The next step the researchers took was to create a diagnostic flowchart that allows pathologists to follow a specific set of steps in determining whether a patient has mesothelioma. “Many diagnostic and technical pitfalls have been known by pathologists when dealing with [malignant pleural mesothelioma],” the study’s conclusion stated, but this new flowchart gives doctors a process they “can use in routine practice and that is in accordance with the literature findings.”
While this is only one part of the process, anything that makes mesothelioma diagnosis quicker and easier is good news for patients. Hopefully this new flowchart, along with other recent improvements, will give people who suffer from asbestos-related cancer a little more hope of surviving such a terrible disease.