How is mesothelioma diagnosed?

Posted: 31st Mar 20 10:00 AM

Catching mesothelioma early can provide a better chance of being able to receive life-extending cancer treatments, as well as improved survival rates.

Mesothelioma, a cancer caused predominantly by exposure to asbestos dust and fibres, will cause more than 53,000 deaths in the UK between the years 2013 and 2037. According to the Health and Safety Executive, more than 2,500 people are diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in the UK every year.

Despite these staggering numbers, the cancer, which affects the lining of the lungs and chest cavity (pleural mesothelioma), the lining of the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma) and the heart (pericardial mesothelioma), is still extremely difficult to diagnose.

Is mesothelioma difficult to diagnose?

Most of the early and noticeable symptoms of mesothelioma are very similar to those of other, sometimes less serious, diseases and conditions.

The symptoms of mesothleioma can include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pains
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Weight loss
  • Tiredness and fatigue

Although these symptoms are similar to more common conditions, such as pneumonia, lung cancer or heart failure, your doctor should always refer you for a chest X-Ray or scan to find out what the cause is.

Because of where mesothelioma tumours are located, they can be very difficult to find through regular investigations, such as an X-Ray or CT scan. The only way to definitively confirm mesothelioma is by having a biopsy.

Can a chest X-Ray show mesothelioma?

In its early stages, mesothelioma does not always show up with a chest X-Ray, and an X-Ray alone cannot give a firm diagnosis of mesothelioma.

Radiologists will be able to see any abnormalities caused by mesothelioma or other lung diseases on an X-Ray, such as pleural effusions, but will not be able to tell the cause of the abnormalities without further testing.

Mesothelioma X-Ray CT scan

Can a CT scan show mesothelioma?

Like X-Rays, CT scans cannot firmly diagnose mesothelioma, although they do give a more accurate picture of what is going on inside your lungs and chest.

The accuracy of CT scans allows your doctor to see where any disease or damage is, and if there has been any spread.

CT scans can also help to identify the best therapies for controlling the cancer while maximising your quality of life.

Mesothelioma biopsies

There are several types of biopsy used to confirm mesothelioma. The most accurate of these techniques is called a thoroscopy.

  • Thoroscopy
  • After being placed under general anaesthesia, the surgeon will insert a small camera between the ribs to take the biopsy, examine the inside of the chest and to suck out any fluid.

  • Mediastinoscopy
  • This procedure also takes place under general anaesthetic. The surgeon will insert a camera at the base of the neck to obtain samples of the lymph nodes around the windpipe.

  • Thoracentesis
  • This type of biopsy is performed under local anaesthesia. Using an ultrasound probe, a small needle is inserted between the ribs from the back and removes a build-up of pleural fluid from behind the lungs. Thoracentesis is used to diagnose the cause of pleural effusions.

  • Fine-needle aspiration
  • Under local anaesthesia, a needle is inserted between the ribs to sample tumours while the patient is having a CT scan.

If you are concerned about mesothelioma or have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, call the National Asbetsos Helpline on 0800 043 6635 or email today. We’re here to help you with advice about your condition and how to cope with it, and can also advise on any benefits and/ or compensation you might be entitled to.

Further reading

What is mesothleioma?

What is a pleural effusion?

5 Risk factors for developing mesothelioma

What are the first signs and symptoms of mesothleioma?

How long do mesothelioma claims take?

What is the asbestos compensation claims process?

Is there a time limit on asbestos compensation claims?