Mesothelioma is one of the deadliest forms of cancer known to exist, but it is also a rare form of cancer, affecting only 2,500 people a year on average.
Although many people consider it a form of lung cancer, mesothelioma actually affects the mesothelium, a protective lining that coats most of your body's internal organs as well as the lungs. The lungs are often the first place the disease is found since the chief cause of the disease is inhaling asbestos particles.
If your doctor suspects that you have mesothelioma, he or she will give you a physical examination to check for any lumps in your body and may also order imaging scans, such as chest x-rays and CT scans, to look for abnormalities in your chest. If any abnormalities are found, your doctor will conduct a biopsy, which is the only sure way to determine if you have mesothelioma. A biopsy is a routine surgical procedure where a small amount of tissue is extracted for examination in a lab. Depending on where the possible tumor is located, there are several forms of biopsy that might be performed.
Biopsies & Related Surgeries
One of the simplest surgeries that can be performed is a fine-needle aspiration. Your doctor will remove a small amount of tissue or bodily fluid with a small needle placed inside your abdomen. You might also receive a thoracoscopy, a procedure where a surgeon will make a small incision between your ribs to place a camera in the incision to assist in removing tissue. Laparoscopies use a similar method in viewing your abdomen. Other forms of biopsies involve major surgeries, such as a thoracotomy or a laparotomy, surgeries in which your chest and abdomen, respectively, are accessed through large incisions to check for signs of the disease, and possibly to remove tissue samples for further testing.
If mesothelioma is found inside your body, your doctor will move on to staging, which determines just how advanced the disease is. Pleural mesothelioma, which is the classic form of the disease, is the only form where staging is used, as other forms of the disease are not as well known. Staging involves a series of imaging tests such as CT scans, MRIs, more chest or abdominal x-rays, and PET imaging. Your doctor will determine which tests you need. Once staging is complete, your doctor will determine which of the four stages of mesothelioma that you have, from stage 1, which is considered a localized tumor, to stage 4 where the cancer may be widespread throughout the body. Afterwards, treatment will be administered accordingly.