How is the pleural mesothelioma diagnosis made?
People are suffering from pleural mesothelioma typically first experience symptoms related to pleural effusion, which occurs when fluid builds up around the lungs.
Symptoms such as a dry cough or shortness of breath can prompt doctors to treat the Pleural Effusion, but they may not make the pleural mesothelioma diagnosis right away.
It is imperative for people who have been exposed to asbestos to discuss this with their doctor when they first start experiencing symptoms.
The earlier a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis is made, the better, because the cancer is aggressive and can spread quickly to an advanced stage.
Conventional diagnostic methods for pleural mesothelioma include:
- Thoracentesis, which involves using a needle to drain fluid from around the lung. The procedure can make it easier for patients to breathe, but fluid tests are not always accurate in diagnosing pleural mesothelioma.
- Diagnostic imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans and MRIs can help identify the location of cancer, but they cannot confirm a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis specifically.
- A biopsy or fluoroscopy (camera-assisted biopsy), which involves taking a sample of the tissue, can be the most effective way to make a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis.
When a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis is made, the doctor will also determine the stage of cancer. Pleural mesothelioma treatment options will depend on the scene, the age of the patient and other factors. Cancer.gov defines the steps as:
Phase I (Localized)
In Stage IA, cancer is found in one side of the chest wall lining and may be in the chest cavity lining or the lining covering the diaphragm. But cancer has not spread to the coating covering the lung. In Stage IB, cancer is found in one side of the chest wall lining and the layer comprising the lung. Cancer may also be found in the chest cavity lining between the lungs or the sheet covering the diaphragm.
Stage II (Advanced)
Cancer has spread beyond Stage I into the lung tissue and the diaphragm.
Stage III (Advanced)
Cancer has spread beyond Stage II and into either:
The lymph nodes where the lung joins the bronchus; along the trachea and esophagus; between the lung and diaphragm; or below the trachea.
The tissue between the ribs and the chest wall lining; the fat between the lungs; the chest wall’s soft tissues; the sac surrounding the heart; or possibly the lymph nodes where the lung joins the bronchus, along with the trachea and esophagus, between the lung and diaphragm, or below the trachea.
Stage IV (Advanced):
Cancer is found in one or both sides of the body and has spread beyond the point where surgery would be an option. It may be found in lymph nodes, the ribs, the spine, brain, heart, thyroid, prostate or other organs.
What are the treatment options available?
Although there is no cure for pleural mesothelioma, there are a variety of treatment options to extend the patient’s life and make him or her more comfortable. And the earlier a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis is made, the better the chances for treatment. Pleural mesothelioma treatments include (but are not limited to):
- Surgery to remove as much of cancer as possible. This treatment option is more likely in patients with Stage I or II pleural mesothelioma.
- Chemotherapy to stop the spread of cancer cells.
- Radiation to target specific areas of cancer cells.
- Clinical trials to test new treatments that are not yet on the market.
Doctors often treat pleural mesothelioma with a combination of these methods. They may also recommend other options to reduce pain and keep the patient comfortable.
What is the prognosis and life expectancy for patients with pleural mesothelioma?
Each year in New York and throughout the United States, about 2,500 to 3,000 people are diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, according to the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation. The American Cancer Society estimates the median survival time for pleural mesothelioma patients at 12 to 21 months, depending on the stage at which the cancer is diagnosed. Health, age, gender and the type of cancer cells detected are also factors in a person’s prognosis.
No matter what the prognosis is for you or your loved one, though, know that you are not alone. There is a whole community of medical professionals, caregivers, patients, and advocates here to help you through your journey.