The most common symptoms of pleural mesothelioma are difficulty in breathing, chest pain, or both. Occasionally, a patient may not have mesothelioma symptoms at diagnosis. Other less common symptoms include weight loss, fever, night sweats, cough, and a general feeling of not being well. Mesothelioma symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma may include swelling, pain due to accumulation of fluid in the abdomen cavity, weight loss, and a mass in the abdomen. Other mesothelioma symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma may include bowel obstruction, blood clotting abnormalities, anemia (a lowered red blood cell count), and fever.
It can be difficult to diagnose mesothelioma because many of the mesothelioma symptoms are similar to those of a number of other conditions, including lung cancer and other types of cancers. At the time of diagnosis, your doctor will first do a physical examination and complete a medical history, including asking about the possibility of prior exposure to asbestos.
Although there is no early detection test for mesothelioma, there are several tests that can be used to help in making the diagnosis of mesothelioma, including a chest x-ray, a CT scan, or an MRI scan. A chest x-ray yields an image of the lungs that will show many types of abnormal changes. A CT scan (computed tomography) is a type of x-ray, but it uses a computer rather than film to create detailed images.
An MRI scan (magnetic resonance imaging) uses magnetism, radio waves, and a computer but does not utilize radiation to create a clear image. These tests help your doctor differentiate mesothelioma from other lung tumors as well as determine where the tumor is and its size.
Your doctor may need to remove a tissue sample from the tumor (a biopsy) or draw fluid (aspirate) from it to confirm it to confirm the diagnosis. This can be done in several ways.
The simplest way to obtain tissue samples involving making a small incision and placing a flexible tube in the area of the tumor. This is called a thoracoscopy if it is done in the chest area. A laparoscopy is the same procedure, but done in the abdominal cavity. A tube that is that is attached to a video camera is placed so that the doctor can look inside the body. A tissue sample may be taken at the same time. Sometimes, however, a more extensive surgical procedure may be advisable. A thoracotomy can be done to open the chest to take a tissue sample and, if feasible, to remove most or all of the visible tumor. If this procedure is done in the abdominal cavity, it is called a laparotomy.
At other times, a mediastinoscopy may be done in which a very small incision is made just above the sternum (breast bone) and a tube inserted just behind the breast bone. This lets the doctors look at lymph nodes. This are small, bean-shaped structures that are an important part of the body's immune system, and they contain cells that help your body fight infection as well as cancer. This test will give the doctor more information on the type of cancer and whether it has spread to other areas. The tissue samples taken in these procedures are analyzed by looking at them under a microscope in order to determine whether the tumor is a mesothelioma or some other type of cancer.