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Diagnosing Mesothelioma

Basic Diagnosis
Diagnosing mesothelioma often means ruling out many diseases with similar symptoms before completing the diagnostic process. The diagnosis of mesothelioma is often difficult and typically occurs in a late stage of development. The patient will give a medical history, which will include answering questions about their history of exposure to asbestos. Other diagnostic tests include x-rays, CT scans, or MRI scans. The purpose of these tests is to try to see any shadowing, or tumor growth. In the case of pleural mesothelioma, lung function tests are performed.
Lung function tests are an extensive battery of tests that show the physician how much air your lungs can hold and how well they transport oxygen through the body and release carbon dioxide. Once a physician makes a preliminary diagnosis, you will be referred to an oncologist.
After a Positive Diagnosis
Most doctors will have an idea about whether you are dealing with mesothelioma or not following tests, but a definitive diagnosis will not be made until after the oncologist completes a biopsy. A biopsy is a medical procedure that removes a small section of tissue from the affected area. This tissue is then sent to a pathologist who will examine the tissue and make the official diagnosis of mesothelioma.
Stages of Mesothelioma
Once a diagnosis of mesothelioma is made, the oncologist will want to determine what stage the cancer is in. Mesothelioma is considered localized if it is contained to the mesothelium. If it has spread to the lymph nodes, the chest or other organs, then it is considered to be in the advanced stages. Staging the tumor is important because it helps the oncologist determine the best course of treatment. When deciding on a treatment protocol, physicians use the acronym TNM to determine the progression of the cancer. The 'T' refers to the size of the tumor, 'N' signifies whether or not there is lymph node involvement, and 'M' stands for metastasis, or whether the tumor has spread to any other organs. The correct assessment as to the stage of the tumor gives the patient the best hope for a positive outcome.
Getting the Earliest Diagnosis
Because mesothelioma mimics so many other diseases, it is important to get an accurate and early diagnosis. If you feel that you may be at risk for developing mesothelioma and begin to suffer from any of the symptoms, you should consult a doctor who will aggressively work to diagnose you. While the "wait and see" approach is fine for many minor health concerns, mesothelioma requires an early diagnosis for any chance of curing the disease.
Mesothelioma is all too often in the advanced stage by the time a diagnosis is made. The tumors in the mesothelium are so thin that they will not show up on an x-ray during early stages. By the time tumors are visible, the mesothelioma may very well have invaded other organs.
While there is currently no screening tool that will allow doctors to test for mesothelioma in the earliest stages, if you are concerned about your odds of developing mesothelioma, there are some precautions you can take.
If you know that you have been exposed to asbestos, through occupational exposure, exposure in your home, or by some other means, you should find a physician that has experience diagnosing patients with mesothelioma and other lung diseases. The more cases of any disease a doctor sees, the more easily he can diagnose them. If you are at risk for developing any asbestos related disease, choose a doctor that has experience in this area and see him for regular check-ups.
Ask your doctor about baseline tests. These tests can be controversial. X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs are not always recommended, and many doctors feel that, in the absence of symptoms, they are a waste of time and money. Some doctors feel that having these baseline tests make it easier to spot subtle changes on follow up tests.
Monitor your health. Early symptoms of mesothelioma are subtle and in order to catch it early you must be attuned to your body. A cough that doesn't go away, heaviness in the chest or shortness of breath can all be signs of a cold or the flu, but with the absence of other symptoms such as a fever or chills, you should question whether it could be something more, such as plural mesothelioma.
If you smoke, stop. Smoking has not been shown to influence the development of mesothelioma, however, it is a risk factor. If you are a smoker when you develop mesothelioma, you will also be putting enormous additional stress on your lungs. When a patient develops plural mesothelioma, their lungs will be severely stressed by excess fluid and their body will be stressed by a decrease in oxygen, as their lungs are unable to work as hard.

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