Detecting mesothelioma can be a tricky endeavor. This rare cancer is caused by exposure to asbestos, a toxic mineral fiber that was used in a variety of different construction materials, such as insulation and paint, and other products ranging from hairdryers to personal care items.
When airborne asbestos particles are inhaled or ingested, the trouble starts. Over time, these particles can build up in the lining of the lungs and abdomen and cause DNA damage. Then some patients with enough exposure and DNA damage develop mesothelioma tumors on the lining of the lungs called the pleura or the lining of the abdomen called the peritoneum.
Detecting mesothelioma is especially difficult because the symptoms typically don’t surface for 20 or even 50 years. Most people with pleural mesothelioma, the most common form of this cancer, suffer from shortness of breath, pain in the chest, cough, weight loss and fever without any signs of infection.
Methods of Detecting Mesothelioma
Doctors conduct a variety of tests to detect mesothelioma, such as blood tests, PET scans and other radiographic tests, and biopsies. The only current conclusive test to detect mesothelioma is a biopsy.
A biopsy is the removal and analysis of tissues and fluid samples from the body through an open or closed procedure. Under a microscope, the cells can be examined for the presence of cancer. Depending on the type of cancer and its location, different biopsy techniques may be used. One such surgical procedure known as an open pleural biopsy (thoracoscopy) is known to have the best diagnostic accuracy for pleural mesothelioma.
Currently, most surgical centers use tiny instruments guided by a camera to perform an open pleural biopsy and only make two small cuts to minimize pain and speed up recovery.
Advances in Detecting Mesothelioma
Researchers are exploring the possibilities of using biomarkers (biological indicators) to help diagnose mesothelioma earlier. The presence of these biomarkers can help researchers decipher if a specific disease is present.
In mesothelioma patients, a biomarker called mesothelin is over-produced by the body. By looking at a sample of the patient’s blood, a doctor can test for high levels of mesothelin. This type of testing is not conclusive though and data is still being gathered in clinical trials and studies. The most important steps in a mesothelioma diagnosis still include imaging scans (like X-rays, CT and PET scans) and biopsies.
Bio: Michelle Llamas is a writer for the Mesothelioma Center. She is committed to generating awareness about the dangers of asbestos exposure and providing information regarding breakthroughs in mesothelioma treatment.
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