Resources for Patients and their Families

Mesothelioma Diagnosis

After analyzing patient symptoms and medical history, doctors will use imaging scans, blood tests, biomarkers and biopsies to diagnose mesothelioma. Due to the cancer’s aggressive nature, early detection and avoiding misdiagnosis are key to ensuring the best prognosis for the patient.

Imaging scans are used to identify tumors and potential metastasis, while blood tests look for biomarkers that could suggest the presence of mesothelioma or reveal a history of asbestos exposure. However, biopsies are the only definitive method to diagnose mesothelioma.

How Is Mesothelioma Diagnosed?

When a patient presents symptoms of mesothelioma, doctors will conduct a physical exam, look at a patient’s medical history and begin to rule out more common diseases and conditions. Physicians will then order a series of tests and procedures to identify the cause of symptoms.

Mesothelioma Imaging Scans

Imaging tests help identify tumors, tumor location and metastasis of cancer during the diagnostic process. The most common scans used for diagnosing mesothelioma include X-rays, MRI scans, CT scans, PET scans and ultrasounds.

Mesothelioma Blood Tests and Biomarkers

Blood tests can be used to look for mesothelioma biomarkers, or substances in the blood that can suggest the presence of malignant mesothelioma. For example, healthy mesothelial cells produce normal levels of mesothelin, but malignant mesothelial cells produce higher levels of the protein, which may be detected during blood tests, aiding diagnosis.

There are a variety of blood tests that can be used to identify particular byproducts common for mesothelioma patients, as well as many biomarkers that continue to emerge. Biomarkers may suggest the presence of mesothelioma, identify key symptoms of the disease or reveal a history of asbestos exposure. Currently, there is no blood test that can definitively diagnose mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma blood tests and biomarkers that have shown promise include:

Mesothelioma Biopsies

Biopsies are usually the last step in a mesothelioma diagnosis and the only way to confirm the cancer. Mesothelioma biopsies remove cancerous fluid or tissue for analysis that will then be used to determine treatment options. There are three types of biopsies that are common for mesothelioma, including needle biopsies, camera-assisted biopsies and surgical biopsies.

Mesothelioma Pathology

Mesothelioma pathology studies the causes and effects of the disease, looking at how the cancer forms and spreads throughout the body. Histology and cytology are two areas of study under pathology that are done to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis after a biopsy, providing information that will guide staging and diagnosis, while helping prevent misdiagnosis.

Common Mesothelioma Misdiagnoses

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer often misdiagnosed for more common diseases and conditions. Each step of the diagnostic process, especially a biopsy, is crucial to preventing misdiagnosis. If mesothelioma is mistaken for another condition, treatment will be delayed, which can worsen a patient’s prognosis. Misdiagnoses vary by type, as listed below.

Importance of Early Detection of Mesothelioma

Malignant mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that spreads quickly. While there is no cure for this cancer, mesothelioma treatment may be able to extend life expectancies for patients, especially if the disease is caught early.

Patients diagnosed at stage 1 or stage 2 are typically able to undergo aggressive surgeries and multimodal treatment, which have shown success in extending survival. Those diagnosed at stage 3 or stage 4 often have limited treatment options, relying on palliative care to maintain a high quality of life.

Resources Available for Mesothelioma Patients and Their Families

Mesothelioma has a long latency period, and it can take decades for symptoms to emerge, making an early diagnosis difficult. Misdiagnosis is also common due to the disease’s rarity and nonspecific symptoms. However, improvements in diagnostic tools offer hope that the cancer can be caught early, presenting patients with the best prognosis possible.

Author: Linda Molinari

Editor in Chief, Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

Linda Molinari

Reviewer: Annette Charlevois

Patient Support Coordinator

Annette Charlevois

American Cancer Society. Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging.

American Cancer Society. How Is Malignant Mesothelioma Diagnosed? Updated February 2016.

American Cancer Society. Types of biopsies used to look for cancer. Updated July 2015.

American Lung Association. Diagnosing and Treating Mesothelioma. Updated April 2018.

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