Since the symptoms of mesothelioma are similar to those of other cancers and because mesotheliomas often mimic other types of cancer, diagnosing mesothelioma can be difficult.
The diagnostic process begins with a review of the patient’s medical history and a physical examination. Radiographic examination by x-ray and/or CT scans or MRIs is usually performed. These radiographic findings may reveal pleural changes or stomach fluid that raises suspicion for mesothelioma.
If large amounts of fluid are discovered, then the fluid may be drained to see if abnormal cells are present. If cytology is positive for cancerous cells, then a biopsy is usually needed to confirm the diagnosis of mesothelioma. A biopsy is where a doctor surgically removes a tissue sample for examination under a microscope by a pathologist. A biopsy may be performed in different ways, depending on where the abnormal area is located. For example, small incisions may be needed in the chest or abdomen to obtain tissue samples for examination.
Mesothelioma treatment is primarily based on the staging of the tumor, as well as the age and health of the patient. Options may include chemotherapy, radiation, and in some cases, surgery.
- Surgery: Surgery alone has not been an effective tool in treating mesothelioma. However, there has been some success when surgery is used in combination with radiation and chemotherapy. Delivering radiation and chemotherapy after a radical surgery has led to extended life expectancy in certain populations, with some patients surviving more than five years. As part of a curative approach to mesothelioma, radiotherapy is also commonly applied to the sites of chest drain insertion to prevent growth of the tumor along the track in the chest wall.
- Radiation: Although mesothelioma is resistant to curative treatment with radiotherapy alone, radiation treatments are sometimes used to relieve symptoms caused by tumor growth. Radiation therapy, when given alone with curative intent, has never been shown to improve survival from mesothelioma.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is the only treatment for mesothelioma that has been proven to improve survival in trials. The most common chemotherapy treatment is a combination of cisplatin and pemetrexed (brand name Alimta). The combination of these two was proven effective in the landmark study published in 2003 by Vogelzang and colleagues that showed a statistically significant improvement in survival from 10 months in the patients treated with cisplatin alone to 13.3 months in the patients’ treated with a combination of cisplatin and Alimta. The study also showed improvements in the quality of life and lung function tests of the patients in the combination group.
Despite treatments, mesothelioma has a poor prognosis since there is no known cure for this disease. The only known cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma contact Jeff Nicholson to discuss your legal options.