Mesothelioma can be a difficult disease to detect and diagnose for a number of reasons, not the least of which are the fact that the symptoms of the disease can take years to manifest and take many forms. Even though this disease is relatively rare on a national scale, unfortunately many Louisiana workers and their families are coping with its impact from working in shipyards or other places where asbestos may have been present.
As with any disease, the early detection of mesothelioma offers the best chance of successful treatment. It is important to understand that mesothelioma is not a lung cancer. It does not develop in the lungs, but rather in the serous membranes surrounding the lungs. Mesothelioma can also occur in the lining of the abdomen and in the lining of the heart. However because the disease often develops around the lungs it is often initially mis-diagnosed as lung cancer.
Symptoms you must pay attention to:
- a cough that gets worse or doesn’t go away
- breathing problems, such as shortness of breath or wheezing
- constant chest pain, especially when you cough
- coughing up blood
- a hoarse voice
- frequent or persistent chest infections, such as pneumonia
- unexplained weight loss
- loss of appetite
A physical exam by your doctor may involve listening to the chest cavity and comparing the sound resonance in the left and right area. Physicians also tap on the chest area for muted or absent breath sounds to determine the presence of fluid in the lungs or a mass in the chest cavity. It may also include checking for enlarged lymph nodes.
Diagnostic tests can identify the presence of mesothelioma:
- Imaging techniques produce a view or image of organs and tissues to determine the presence of fluid or tumors.
- Chest x–ray may show an unusual thickening of the membrane lining the chest and lung cavities (pleura), lowering of the lung fissures, an accumulation of fluid in the lungs, and/or an irregular mass in the chest cavity.
- CT scans allow a radiologist to see distinct aspects of the lungs and pleura.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) gives images which better detect tumor growth in the pleura and thoracic wall.
- Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans can pinpoint the regions of active disease and can also identify extremely small cancerous cells, indicate benign or malignant cells, and help determine whether treatment therapies are working.
Pathological tests help diagnose mesothelioma:
- Thoracoscopy allows a doctor to see the tumor through the thoracoscope and can use special forceps to take a tissue biopsy.
- Laparoscopy can be used to see and obtain a biopsy of a peritoneal tumor. Fluid can also be collected during thoracoscopy or laparoscopy.
- Bronchoscopy involves inserting a flexible lighted tube down the trachea, and into the bronchi to check for masses in the airway. Small samples of tissue that appear abnormal may also be removed for testing.
- Mediastinoscopy involves inserting a lighted tube under the chest bone to view the lymph nodes and take tissue samples to check for cancer.
- Pulmonary Function Tests (PFT) evaluate the entire respiratory system. PFTs can be a simple peak flow measurement, or complex body plethysmography and ventilation/perfusion scans which are performed in hospitals and clinics. PFTs can also be useful in monitoring a patient response to treatment.
Family and community support are an important part of your mesothelioma treatment. Having a list of questions and bringing a family member or friend with you to your appointments can help.
Questions to ask your doctor:
- At what stage is my mesothelioma?
- Has the cancer spread to other parts of my body?
- What tests will I need to have?
- How long will the tests take?
- What do I need to do to prepare for the tests?
- When will I get the results?
- What treatment do you recommend?
- Are there any other treatments I should consider?
- What happens without treatment?
- Do you know of any on-going clinical trials for my type of cancer?
Landry & Swarr, a New Orleans mesothelioma law firm, has conducted extensive research on the impact of occupational and secondary exposure to asbestos. If you or a family member feel that you may have contracted mesothelioma due to contact with asbestos, call 1-866-275-8706 and speak to one of our attorneys about your legal options.