Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that typically takes a long time to develop and is difficult to diagnose. While medical professionals have not yet discovered a cure, they do know that asbestos exposure is the direct cause of this deadly disease.
An Insidious Disease
When you inhale or ingest microscopic asbestos fibers, they can become lodged in the sensitive lining of your lungs, heart, abdomen or testicles. It may take years—or even decades—for these invisible particles to cause inflammation and scarring, but once the process gets underway, it can develop into mesothelioma.
The most common form of the disease is pleural mesothelioma, which affects three-fourths of all those diagnosed. Peritoneal mesothelioma is nextin order of occurrence while pericardial and testicular forms of the disease are far rarer.
In its earliest developmental stage, mesothelioma may only cause mild symptoms, including:
- Slight to moderate pain at the tumor site
However, as this disease gains ground, you may experience:
- Respiratory distress
- Significant pain at the tumor site
- Dramatic weight loss
- Fluid in the lungs or pericardial space
- Digestive problems
Failure to Correctly Diagnose Mesothelioma
There are certain tools and procedures that health care practitioners can use to detect the presence of mesothelioma. However, due to its rarity as well as the fact that some of its symptoms are common in other diseases, many patients fail to ever receive an accurate diagnosis.
Some of the diseases that share symptoms with pleural mesothelioma are:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Adenocarcinoma and other forms of lung cancer
- Non-cancerous pleural plaques
Doctors may mistake peritoneal mesothelioma for illnesses such as:
- Ovarian cancer
- Crohn’s disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome
Pericardial mesothelioma is sometimes misdiagnosed as:
- Heart failure
- Tuberculosis pericarditis
- Coronary artery disease
A misdiagnosis can be very harmful. It could result in proper treatment being delayed and a worsened medical condition. In the meantime, the patient is incurring unnecessary expenses for the medical care that is being rendered for a disease that isn’t present.
Why Is Mesothelioma Misdiagnosed?
There are several reasons why mesothelioma is so commonly misdiagnosed:
The rarity of the disease: Since the U.S. only sees about 3,000 cases per year, medical professionals don’t test as rigorously for mesothelioma when symptoms appear.
The long latency period: Symptoms of mesothelioma can emerge decades after asbestos exposure, so the symptoms can seldom be traced to recent activities or events.
Improperly conducted or analyzed tests: In many cases, the disease will be misdiagnosed due to an improperly conducted biopsy or a failure to perform necessary follow-up tests after a negative result.
Tools for an Accurate Mesothelioma Diagnosis
A biopsy is one of the more definitive ways to detect many forms of cancer, and it is one of the most accurate methods for diagnosing mesothelioma as well. There are different types and techniques that are used based upon the location and the type of tumor. A thoracoscopic biopsy is often used when pleural mesothelioma is suspected.
Two promising tools for diagnosing mesothelioma are the Mesomark assay and the N-ERC/Mesothelin assay, which detect the biomarker mesothelin. A larger than normal amount of this peptide in the blood indicates a likelihood of mesothelioma. Other biomarkers your doctor may test for include osteopontin, HBGB1 and fibulin-3. When used in combination with other diagnostic tools, these blood tests help physicians diagnose mesothelioma with greater accuracy.
If you’ve been exposed to asbestos, genetic testing can help predict your risk for developing mesothelioma. Researchers have identified specific DNA markers, such as the BAP1 gene, that indicate a higher than average risk for mesothelioma.
In addition, specialists use the following diagnostic tools:
- X-rays – to check for a buildup of fluid in the chest. An X-ray is only good for detecting symptoms, but it can serve as a valuable first step in a diagnosis.
- CT scans – computerized tomography—to detect tumors. CT scans are approximately 90 percent effective for mesothelioma detection.
- MRIs – magnetic resonance imaging—for locating tumors and planning removal surgery. If cancer is detected, an MRI can provide high-resolution imaging to determine if and how much the cancer has metastasized.
- PET scans – positron emission tomography—to detect cancer and determine if tumors are benign or malignant. Since PET scans show the metabolic activity of cancer cells, they can provide a more thorough long-term prognosis than other forms of testing.
Three Cell Types in Mesothelioma Tumors
Microscopic analysis of your tissue will show one of three cell types:
Epithelial cells are the most common type in mesothelioma patients, accounting for well over half of all cases. These are the most preferred type of cells to have because they are most responsive to treatment and least likely to cause death.
Sarcomatoid cells are less prevalent, occurring in less than 20 percent of mesothelioma cases. These cells are associated with the most aggressive form of the disease and higher fatality rates.
Biphasic tumors have the characteristics of both epithelial and sarcomatoid cells. If more epithelial cells are present, the prognosis will be more positive. About 30 percent of those with mesothelioma have the biphasic form.
The Next Steps
As with other cancers, earlier detection increases your chances of treating and beating mesothelioma. Removal or reduction of the tumor can alleviate your symptoms. You may need to undergo radiation or chemotherapy. A physician takes the progression of your disease into account when designing a treatment program.
Mesothelioma has four specific stages:
- The cancer is located in a small area, metastasis has not yet occurred, several treatment options are viable and you have the best prognosis.
- The cancer is still localized, but it has begun to metastasize or spread; curative treatment remains viable.
- The cancer is contained in one side of the body, the tumors have spread to lymph nodes and localized organs and treatment is likely to be palliative rather than curative.
- Cancer has spread throughout the body to several organs, lymph nodes and vessels; treatment is palliative.
What If You’ve Been Misdiagnosed?
If you believe you may have had a misdiagnosis it is important to seek a pulmonary doctor who has experience with diagnosing the particular mesothelioma or lung cancer cell type you may have.
It may be important to contact your primary care doctor that you have been exposed to asbestos in the past and would like to receive testing for any asbestos exposure type conditions such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, or asbestosis scarring resulting from the asbestos exposure.
Statute of Limitations
Every state as well as the District of Columbia has laws that govern the number of years that a plaintiff has to file a civil lawsuit. However, the laws are not uniform, and many states have different statutes with asbestos exposure claims and payouts.
In some cases, the period begins on the date when the claimant was diagnosed with an asbestos exposure related condition like mesothelioma or lung cancer.
Support Is Available
Establishing a failure to properly diagnose mesothelioma can be a challenge. If you or a loved one have been harmed by a asbestos exposure seeking legal counsel may be advisable.
Contact Mesowatch today to reach experienced asbestos exposure attorneys and receive a confidential case evaluation. Pursue legal action against all liable parties and trust funds in a quick and professional manner.