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Arriving at a Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Your doctor will complete a thorough exam which will include asking you questions about your history of exposure to asbestos, your profession and questions about your military experience. After a verbal consultation, your physician will combine the information you supply with radiology examinations and pathology methods to reach a diagnosis of mesothelioma cancer.

Procedures Used for Reaching a Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Tumor Markers/Blood Test

This type of testing is usually performed during the initial suspicion of mesothelioma asbestos lung cancer as it can detect some tumors even before they are large enough to be visible. It measures blood levels for specific chemical substances that would be present in a patient with mesothelioma. These chemical substances are picked up because they are not ordinarily existent in the body unless there is a tumor. They are produced either by the tumor itself or as a byproduct of the tumor’s growth in the body.


Abnormalities in the lung or pleura seen on an x-ray will warrant the performance of a CT/CAT scan. A CT/CAT scan is a two-dimensional view of details seen on an x-ray. It provides a more thorough picture of the thickness of tissues and bone by using an x-ray beam that rotates around the patient’s body. The patient may be given an injection of dye into the suspected tumor area to view it better.

This procedure allows the doctor to see the size, location, and extent of tumor development. It can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and is not painful but may be uncomfortable because the patient must lie still during the procedure.


An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is helpful to doctors because it further delineates the extent of the disease. If a CT scan shows chest wall invasion, an MRI is useful in viewing the tumor. Through the combined use of magnetic fields, radio waves, and a computer, an MRI creates images of selected areas of the body.

Because this type of procedure is excellent at showing the contrast between tumors and normal cell tissues, it aids doctors in viewing the degree of disease. It clearly shows where tumors have developed in the patient’s body.

PET Scan

Another procedure that assists doctors with determining the extent or stage of mesothelioma lung cancer is the use of Positron Emission Tomography, or PET scan. This type of procedure is useful in identifying small tumors because it uses cameras and tracers to form images that indicate biological changes in the body.

A compound such as glucose is injected into the body with a signal emitting tracer in it. A scanner will then record the signals that the tracers emit as they travel through the body and collect in different organs. Cancer metabolizes glucose at a higher rate than normal tissues or organs would, so the results of the scan can tell the doctor if cancer is present because the cancerous areas show abnormal activity.


A pleuroscopy involves making tiny incisions between the ribs and inserting a long thin tube with a video camera at the end (called a pleuroscope) into the chest cavity. Doctors can then view the inside of the patient's chest on a video monitor to determine how to progress with treatment.

Based on the discoveries made with the pleuroscope, the doctor can then decide if tissue samples need to be taken, or if fluid needs to be removed. A peritoneoscopy is a method performed to obtain samples of tissue from the abdomen.

Immunohistochemistry or IHC

This type of diagnostic procedure is usually used to determine what kind of tumor is present. Immunohistochemistry involves the process of locating proteins in tissue cells using staining. IHC is not considered a primary indicator of mesothelioma, but aids in determining the histological type of mesothelioma tumor present.

* If any diagnostic procedures indicate that there may be mesothelioma, your doctor will order a biopsy, which is a sample of tissues. The tissues are then examined in a lab, and this will confirm or contradict a mesothelioma diagnosis.