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The diagnosis of any type of Mesothelioma rare and can only be confirmed by biopsy. Mesothelioma symptoms are non-specific, so the initial diagnosis is often found incidental to diagnostic scans performed because of general complaints, such as shortness of breath. A radiologist identifies a suspicious lesion, and that requires a biopsy. Your pathologist will confirm the lesion is cancerous and hand treatment to the oncologist.

Mesothelioma Everyday Symptoms

What are some everyday symptoms that people go to the doctor for that can be a sign of Mesothelioma?

The most common symptoms might appear to be age-related aches and pains or related to the cold or flu season. In the early stages, one cannot detect Mesothelioma without additional testing. Typical symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, and abdominal discomfort could be a sign of Mesothelioma.

The diagnosis of Mesothelioma is usually an accident arising from a general health complaint of shortness of breath, abdominal discomfort, and chest pain. Patients tend to be in their late 60s or early 70s and go to their doctor for something that does not indicate a Mesothelioma or anything else wrong.

Imaging Diagnostic for Mesothelioma

The first step in treatment will involve imaging the chest or abdomen, such as an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI. Often your radiologist will discover a density, calcification, nodule, or a granuloma that doesn't look "right."

Your doctor will then decide if the nodule appears to be stable. A stable lesion is something they will check on in 3 to 6 months. Suppose the nodule is getting bigger or changing shape. In that case, they will order a biopsy or collection of fluid (cytology) from the area.

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Mesothelioma Diagnosis

How is Mesothelioma diagnosed?

Early diagnosis is critical in getting the proper treatment that can slow the progression of the disease. One should consult a physician that has experience in accurately diagnosing Mesothelioma.

An experienced doctor can analyze mesothelioma by imaging from a high-resolution CT scan. The official clinical diagnosis requires testing tissue by a pathologist. This tissue can be obtained in three different ways:

  • Needle Biopsy of Tissue
  • Fluid Biopsy (from lungs or abdomen)
  • Surgical Resection

The summarized results of the biopsy called a "pathology report" are notoriously confusing, so if your doctor has given you a copy, we would like to help you interpret the report. Our firm has consulting physicians that can help you quickly understand your pathology report and what your treating doctors are trying to tell you.

Needle Biopsy of Tissue

The most clinically definitive way to diagnose Mesothelioma is a needle biopsy where a core sample of tissue is obtained and tested by a pathologist. The tissue is cut into thin slices, placed on slides, and exposed to chemicals to identify the tumor cell type.

There are a few different ways a needle biopsy might be performed. The surgeon can use an endoscope and scope down the throat and biopsy the lung from the side. A long needle can be used to enter the back under the shoulder blade or from the affected lung's side through the rib cage.

Your doctor will be aiming for a specific suspicious spot identified in an imaging test; however, the biopsy provides the clinical data to the doctor to make a final diagnosis.

Fluid Biopsy (Cytology)

On many occasions, the first time a patient presents to the doctor, the only noticeable symptom is shortness of breath. After diagnostic tests reveal pleural effusion (fluid around the lung), a needle is inserted to gather a sample and relieve the pressure.

If the fluid is removed and then comes back a few weeks, that can be a sign of Mesothelioma. The shortness of breath will improve for a time, but then fluid build-up returns when the pleural effusion returns.

The amount of fluid that is removed can be significant, and the liquid is then spun in a centrifuge to create a cell block. The cell block can then be cut, placed on slides, and tested like a tissue biopsy. The cell block sample is then cut into thin slices and stained to measure certain chemicals' reactivity.

Ascites Fluid Biopsy (Cytology)

Patients can also present with an excess fluid of the abdomen with is called ascites. This additional fluid can also be a sign of Mesothelioma in the peritoneum.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma can also be diagnosed by tissue biopsy but is often first identified by the cytology.  This chemical analysis of a cell block that is created from fluid removed from the abdomen.

Having several liters of excess fluid in your abdomen can be painful. It can be relieved by draining to obtain a fluid biopsy. If the ascites build-up returns quickly, that is a sign that the patient may have Peritoneal Mesothelioma.


Surgical removal (or resection) of any tissue in the body can be analyzed, just like a biopsy. For example, if a lobe of the lung is removed, it can be tested to see if it is malignant. If it is cancer, your doctors will determine the exact cell type to choose the best treatment course.

Suppose you are already having surgery, and the doctor discovers a suspicious mass anywhere in the body. In that case, they will resect it and forward it to a pathologist for analysis. The tissue that is tested serves the same purpose as a biopsy and can be used to prove your Mesothelioma case if it turns out to be positive.

Early diagnosis is critical in getting the proper treatment that can slow the progression of the disease. One should consult a physician that has experience in accurately diagnosing Mesothelioma.


Why Is Mesothelioma Painful?

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that develops in the lining of the lungs, heart or abdomen. Initially mesothelioma does not cause pain directly, instead it indirectly causes pain through the build up of fluid in the lining of the lungs or abdomen.

This fluid (or effusion) is the bodies reaction to the damage to the mesothelial lining caused by asbestos fibers trapped in the tissues. The excess fluid puts pressure on and irritates the pain receptive nerves in the area. In later stages, when mesothelioma becomes metastatic, pain is caused by tumor growth that irritates or damages nerves. Pain from mesothelioma is often relieved by withdrawing the excess fluid from the lungs/abdomen or with pain medication.

How Long Does A Person Live After Being Diagnosed With Mesothelioma?

A person diagnosed with mesothelioma could be expected to live between 6 and 50+ months. There are many factors which contribute to a life expectancy estimation at the time of diagnosis.

The most important factor doctors consider as a part of determining a patient's prognosis is the stage of the cancer (1 through 4 - with stage 4 being the most advanced).

Stage 1 patients have the longest life expectancy as the cancer is still localized and are often eligible for aggressive treatments, including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Conversely, stage 4 patients have more limited treatment options as cancer has begun to spread to other parts of the body, as well as tissues and lymph nodes.

However, no one can predict precisely how long a person will live with mesothelioma. Some patients have truly beaten the odds and survived far longer than their original prognosis. No two mesothelioma cases are alike, and many other factors such as overall health, gender, age, and genetics play a significant part in survival rates.

Has Anyone Survived Mesothelioma?

There are a few people that the media has identified as mesothelioma survivors. In addition, there are clearly medically documented cases, including many FlintCooper clients, who have survived years beyond their original prognosis.

Even if detected early, there is currently no cure for mesothelioma. Although, researchers continue to search for a cure and develop therapies and treatments which may extend the lives of those with mesothelioma, or possibly even one day manages it as a chronic disease rather than a terminal one.

The prognosis for a patient with mesothelioma is poor, as most often the disease is not discovered in the early stages. Symptoms are many times not present until later stages, or if they are, they are often confused with those of other, less serious, illnesses.

Adrianne Andrus

Reviewed by:  Adrienne Andrus
Chief Editor of FlintCooper
Client Advocate & Product Liability Paralegal since 2015.
Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communication, SIU Edwardsville

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