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Early Stage Diagnosis of Mesothelioma Increases Survival Times

Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer caused by exposure to asbestos that begins in the lining of the lungs (pleural mesothelioma), the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma), or the heart (pericardial mesothelioma). Diagnosing mesothelioma is not always easy, and therefore many times the cancer has reached advanced stages before it is detected. Once mesothelioma has reached Stage III or IV, prognosis is usually less than a year.

Two main factors make diagnosis more challenging. One is the long latency period of ten to forty years after initial exposure to asbestos before symptoms of mesothelioma begin to develop. The second is that when those symptoms do begin to show, they are non-specific and can often be misdiagnosed as other more common ailments, such as pneumonia. Patients who have known prior exposure to asbestos and inform their primary care physician may be more aware and catch the disease sooner, increasing their chances of survival.

Typically, a patient will first see a doctor with complaints of shortness of breath, chest pain, abdominal pain or breathing problems. From this time, it usually takes three to six months for a doctor to make a mesothelioma diagnosis. Part of the process of diagnosis is taking background and occupational history, performing a complete physical examination, and then taking one or more of the following tests:

  • Chest X-ray
  • CT Scan
  • PET Scan
  • MRI
  • Biopsy / Tissue Samples
  • miRview (test specifically for diagnosing mesothelioma)

There are many clinical trials also being conducted that are researching better and easier ways of detecting mesothelioma earlier, especially in populations with known prior asbestos exposure.

As with all cancers, chances of survival as well as efficacy of treatment increase with earlier diagnosis, especially Stage I or II cancers. The typical life expectancy from time of diagnosis is less than 18 months, although when mesothelioma is detected earlier, survival can be up to five years. Early diagnosis provides a better chance of being able to remove some of the tumors surgically and also increases the kinds of treatment, frontline and alternative, that can be used.

Research clearly demonstrates that using more than one mode of treatment, called multimodal therapy, leads to longer survival and improved quality of life. Getting medical treatment from an oncologist who specializes in occupational diseases and mesothelioma has also been shown to be helpful. For more information, see our listing of mesothelioma treatment centers and doctors who specialize in treating this type of cancer.