When symptoms of mesothelioma are present, a thorough medical examination must be done. Additionally, the patient's medical history must be evaluated, and any past exposure to asbestos must be considered. Special testing, such as X-rays, MRI scans, CT scans, and biopsies may be needed in order to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis.
Both pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma can cause a build of up fluid – also known as effusion – in the abdomen or chest. Doctors often use fine needle aspiration to obtain samples of the fluid for testing, and may even use this procedure to drain the fluid and make the patient more comfortable.
Common tests that are done to help confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis include:
- Thoracoscopy – This is a minimally-invasive procedure that involves examination of the inside of a person's chest cavity through the use of a small camera. Medical professionals rely on this procedure to diagnose the condition, as well as to monitor the progress of the disease. The thoracic region is the area in a person's chest cavity, which is an area commonly affected by mesothelioma. Several medical major studies have demonstrated that the use of thoracoscopy is particularly reliable in the diagnosis of mesothelioma. In one study, researchers examined tissue samples taken from nearly 200 patients who were known to have mesothelioma and were able to accurately diagnose the condition through thoracoscopy in each patient. Due to the procedure's minimally-invasive nature, it is often an excellent choice for patients who experience difficulty with anesthesia or serious infections. Recovery time from a thoracoscopy often takes a few days, during which time a patient can expect to remain in the hospital. In a week or two after the procedure, patients are often fully healed and recovered. Despite its numerous advantages, one potential risk of thoracoscopy is that cancer cells might be moved into unaffected areas in a person's body. Very similar to a thoracoscopy, a mediastinoscopy involves a probe that is placed through a person's neck rather than chest.
- Thoracentesis - If fluid is found to build up in the area between a person's lungs and pleura, thoracentesis is often a reliable way to remove fluid so it can be examined.
- Peritoneoscopy – If the doctor suspects peritoneal mesothelioma, a special instrument called a peritoneoscope is used to visually explore the abdomen. Fluid found in the abdominal cavity can be trained through the process known as paracentesis.
- Biopsy – This procedure involves the removal of a small portion of tissue for examination in a laboratory. In some cases, this might be the only way to make a mesothelioma diagnosis. There are several types of biopsies that can be performed. For example, a physician might remove fluid or a piece of tissue with a thin needle inserted through the skin on a person's abdomen or chest. It is also possible to collect a sample of tissue during a surgical procedure. The type of mesothelioma that a person is determined to have will ultimately impact a patient's treatment plan.