Mesothelioma - How it's Diagnosed

Describe the tests and exams that led to a diagnosis of mesothelioma in you or a loved one.

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How is mesothelioma diagnosed?

Mesothelioma is diagnosed by pathological examination from a biopsy. Tissue is removed, placed under the microscope, and a pathologist makes a definitive diagnosis and issues a pathology report. This is the end of a process that usually begins with symptoms that send most people to the doctor: a fluid buildup around the lungs (pleural effusions), shortness of breath, pain in the chest, or pain or swelling in the abdomen. The doctor may order an X-ray or CT scan of the chest or abdomen. If further examination is warranted, the following tests may be done:

  • Thoracoscopy: For pleural mesothelioma, the doctor may look inside the chest cavity with a special instrument called a thoracoscope. A cut will be made through the chest wall and the thoracoscope will be put into the chest between two ribs. This test is usually done in a hospital using an anesthetic. If fluid has collected in your chest, your doctor may drain the fluid out of your body by putting a needle into your chest and using gentle suction to remove the fluid. This is called thoracentesis.
  • Peritoneoscopy: For peritoneal mesothelioma, the doctor may also look inside the abdomen with a special tool called a peritoneoscope. The peritoneoscope is put into an opening made in the abdomen. This test is usually done in the hospital under an anesthetic. If fluid has collected in your abdomen, your doctor may drain the fluid out of your body by putting a needle into your abdomen and using gentle suction to remove the fluid. This process is called paracentesis.
  • Biopsy: If abnormal tissue is found, the doctor will need to cutout a small piece and have it looked at under a microscope. This is usually done during the thoracoscopy or peritoneoscopy, but can be done during surgery. Unfortunately, in some cases, tumor cells can grow along the tract where the biopsy is taken. This can be minimized with the use of radiation to the area.
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