The earlier a malignant mesothelioma diagnosis can be made, the more options a specialist has to treat the aggressive asbestos cancer. Because mesothelioma is a latent disease that can take 30 to 50 years to fully develop and become symptomatic, mesothelioma is typically diagnosed at a very advanced stage.
The average post-diagnostic survival time for a malignant mesothelioma sufferer is between one and two years.
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There are a number of methods used to detect the potential presence of malignant mesothelioma before a diagnosis can be confirmed. Imaging technologies such as X-rays, MRIs, CT scans and PET scans can be particularly helpful in detecting mesothelioma.
PET scans provide highly detailed images of the biological functions of the body and have been used in the detection of various malignancies. In fact, many mesothelioma specialists are of the opinion that PET scans are the most effective imaging tool for mesothelioma detection.
Once mesothelioma is detected, the next step is to work toward a confirmable diagnosis.
Biopsy and Histopathology
The only way to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis is by performing a biopsy and submitting the suspect tissue for diagnostic histopathology (study of diseased tissue). A pathologist studies the tissue under a high-powered microscope to view the structure of the individual cells. Based on this structure, malignant mesothelioma can be confirmed and classified.
Mesothelioma cells come in different forms: epithelioid mesothelioma cells are relatively uniform and tubular in shape, while sarcomatoid mesothelioma cells are oval and more irregular in shape. Often, a biopsy will reveal both epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells. This combination is known as “biphasic mesothelioma.”
On a macro scale, mesothelioma is diagnosed in accordance with the serous membrane it affects:
- Pleural mesothelioma affects the pleura, the serous membrane surrounding the lungs.
- Peritoneal mesothelioma affects the peritoneum, the serous membrane surrounding the abdomen.
- Pericardial mesothelioma affects the pericardium, the serous membrane surrounding the heart.
Once a mesothelioma diagnosis is confirmed, a specialist can determine how far the disease has progressed and estimate survival time. Based on the pathologist’s findings, a comprehensive treatment plan can be developed to minimize pain and discomfort and extend survival time as long as possible.
Unfortunately, there is no curative treatment for malignant mesothelioma at this time.
New Methods for Diagnosis of Mesothelioma
The earlier a case of malignant mesothelioma can be diagnosed, the more options a specialist has in treatment planning. Unfortunately, mesothelioma can reach full maturity by the time a diagnosis is confirmed. As such, a great deal of mesothelioma research revolves around developing new diagnostic methods through which to confirm a case of the disease as early as possible.
Researchers in Australia have identified a link between elevated levels of a protein called soluble mesothelin related protein (SMR protein) and mesothelioma sufferers. Subjects who had been exposed to asbestos tested positive for elevated levels of SMR protein nearly three years before being diagnosed with mesothelioma. This is a significant find because mesothelioma usually isn’t detected until the latter stages of its progression; by detecting the disease earlier, the treatment has precious extra time to take effect. People who have been exposed to asbestos at one time or another can be tested for increased levels of SMR protein.
In another study, researchers at Wayne State University focused on elevated levels of a glycoprotein called osteopontin in pleural mesothelioma sufferers. Like the SMR protein test, the osteopontin test is believed to have valuable potential in screening for malignant mesothelioma before it has fully matured.
Misdiagnosis of Malignant Mesothelioma
Pleural mesothelioma is the most common type of mesothelioma, accounting for an approximate 75 percent of all confirmed cases. Due to the cancer’s proximity to the lungs, its effects are similar to a host of other lung conditions.
Pleural mesothelioma sufferers often experience symptoms such as chest pain, chronic coughing and shortness of breath. The common nature of these symptoms can lead to a misdiagnosis of pneumonia, asthma or bronchitis. The delay caused as a result of a misdiagnosis can significantly affect a mesothelioma sufferer’s survival time.
Our attorneys are gifted California mesothelioma attorneys who have filed a number of asbestos lawsuits in California and across the country. These lawsuits have helped our clients to receive compensation for the devastating illnesses caused by asbestos exposure. Contact Levin Simes Abrams by completing the free consultation form on this page, or call us at 415-426-3000.