Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that occurs in the mesothelium, which is the tissue that covers most internal organs. This cancer usually develops because someone inhaled or ingested asbestos fibers, which end up irritating some of their body tissues.
If you have been exposed to asbestos, you may be concerned about your health. In particular, you may wonder if you have mesothelioma. However, it can take decades for mesothelioma to develop – if it develops at all. Because there can be so much time between the initial exposure and the development of cancer, it is important to know what symptoms you should be looking for and what to do if you notice them.
Many people notice symptoms first
For many people, the diagnosis process begins after they notice symptoms that something is wrong. Symptoms of mesothelioma can vary depending on the location of the tumor. However, some mesothelioma symptoms, include:
- Chest or abdominal pain
- Painful coughing
- Weight loss
- Shortness of breath
Basic tests will indicate if there is a problem
If you have some of these symptoms, it may be advantageous to reach out to your doctor to schedule a physical exam. During this exam, your doctor may look more closely at your symptoms and check to see if you have any lumps on your body.
Mesothelioma can be challenging to diagnose, and often requires a variety of tests. Your doctor may initially order an x-ray or a computerized tomography (CT) scan.
A biopsy can confirm a diagnosis
If those tests suggest you could have mesothelioma, your doctor may refer you to a surgeon or an oncologist. A medical professional must conduct a biopsy to confirm your diagnosis. A biopsy involves removing a small amount of fluid or a small piece of tissue. This sample could be collected either by a needle or through surgery.
Professionals will then examine the fluid or tissue sample under a microscope to see if it includes cancer cells. If they find cancer cells, they must then determine what kind of cancer it is. Sometimes, mesothelioma can look like other types of cancer, so special lab tests may need to be conducted to confirm an exact diagnosis.
Additional tests measure the extent of the cancer
If your biopsy confirms that mesothelioma has developed, it is important to determine exactly how far the cancer has spread and what stage your cancer is at. To do this, your doctor will probably order additional testing. Depending on your situation, you may need a CT scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or positron emission tomography (PET) scan.
Unfortunately, mesothelioma is an aggressive illness. By the time symptoms are noticeable, the disease may have already progressed to an advanced stage. If you know you have been exposed to asbestos, you might consider getting regular cancer screenings to help identify abnormalities before symptoms develop. Identifying a problem early can help keep more treatment options open.