How is mesothelioma or asbestos cancer diagnosed?

Hi, I’m a mesothelioma trial attorney in Boston, and I can tell you that there is generally two ways that physicians (doctors) diagnose mesothelioma.

The first way of diagnosing mesothelioma, or called asbestos cancer, is a clinical diagnosis. That means that a doctor is evaluating a patient’s presenting symptoms to draw a picture as to what this patient could be suffering from. So the things that are evaluated are things like shortness of breath. Often with mesothelioma victims builds up, it’s called a “pleural effusion.”

But it’s basically just a buildup of fluid between a bony ribcage and the lungs. And when the fluid builds up, it pushes on both the ribs and the lungs. The ribs don’t move – they’re made of bone — so it pushes in and impacts the lungs, makes it harder for the patient to breathe. Shortness of breath is a known symptom of mesothelioma. General fatigue and weakness. Weight loss, substantial weight loss unexplained in a short period of time is another factor, another symptom, that physicians will use to clinical diagnose or be suspicious of mesothelioma.

For mesothelioma victims, the definite diagnose comes in the form of a biopsy. And for pleural mesothelioma, it’s a biopsy of the pleural. And the pleural is the lining on the outside of the lung, sometimes referred to as a “saran wrap like substance” that lines the exterior (the outside of the lung) and doctors will take a biopsy of that surface to determine if a patient has mesothelioma. And how is that biopsy taken? Well, it’s usually taken through a surgical technique and I would say the most common one would be a video assisted thoracoscopy, sometimes known as a VAT (a video assisted thoracoscopy).

The doctors go in with several instruments — one of which has a camera on it — and the surgeon (the doctor) can visualize the area in the chest where the mesothelioma or asbestos fibers could be. And with other instruments (and again, this is a minimally invasive technique) the physicians can take a biopsy (a piece of flesh). That biopsy material is then taken and sent to a pathology lab within the hospital and the pathologists (they’re specialized doctors who deal with diagnosing disease from looking at a slide).

The flesh is put onto a slide and for mesothelioma victims the slides are often stained in certain ways so that different cell types can be visualized when the pathologist looks under a microscope at the slide. That pathologist then writes out a report — it’s called a “pathology report” — and the pathology report is a very important piece of paper that becomes part of that patient’s medical case because it definitively diagnoses their disease.

And it becomes a very important part of their legal case because it definitively diagnoses them of having been a victim of pleural mesothelioma. I’m sure you have many other questions about how mesothelioma is diagnosed. At our firm we handle cases every day for mesothelioma victims. This is what we do every day and we can answer your questions. Thank you.

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