Mesothelioma affects the mesothelium that lines the walls of the heart, lungs, chest and abdomen. Its symptoms mirror those of other less serious respiratory diseases, such as upper respiratory infections and bronchitis, causing many patients to either receive a wrong diagnosis or wait too long before visiting a doctor altogether. Because all types of mesothelioma cause serious consequences with a delayed diagnosis, early treatment is essential to improving the disease’s prognosis.
Though only 2,000 to 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in the U.S. per year, its signs and symptoms are uncommonly connected to the disease. Mesothelioma typically doesn’t present symptoms or tumors for many years following exposure to asbestos, and individuals exposed to the fibers may not see asbestos-related illness develop for several decades following exposure. Because of this fact, anyone who has been exposed to asbestos at any point in life should be aware of the disease’s symptoms and submit to mesothelioma screenings even if no symptoms are present.
Diagnosis of the disease usually entails multiple diagnostic tests, such as blood tests and chest x-rays, followed by CT scans, MRIs and sonograms. If the tests discover the presence of cancer cells or tumors, you may have to submit to a biopsy. Pathologists are responsible for examining the biopsy’s cancer cells and recognizing them as mesothelioma.
Though many physicians have had little or no firsthand experience with the disease and may not readily recognize its symptoms, proper diagnosis of mesothelioma is imperative to fighting the cancer. The disease often mimics other types of lung cancer, many of which require less rigorous treatment than mesothelioma does. Despite the increasing number of mesothelioma cases each year and the rising awareness to the disease, many patients are still misdiagnosed with the wrong type of cancer.
The disease has no cure, and typically carries a very short life expectancy. Unfortunately, it is also metastatic, meaning it easily spreads to other areas of the body. However, early diagnosis of the disease could lengthen life expectancy, as many treatments are available to help slow its progression. Despite the bleak prognosis of mesothelioma, patients may live longer than the statistical average if treatment starts in the early stages of the disease.