How is mesothelioma diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects you have mesothelioma or some other asbestos-related illness, he or she will usually start by identifying the possibility of asbestos exposure. This would include looking at your medical, work, and environmental history. After that, your health care provider will perform a physical examination that may include one or more of the following:

  • Chest X-ray
  • Pulmonary function exams
  • Computer tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan

In the event that one or more of these tests identifies something suspicious, your health care provider will likely recommend a biopsy to confirm a diagnosis. A biopsy may be either a needle biopsy an open biopsy. In a needle biopsy, fluid is removed and examined for cancerous cells. In an open biopsy, a surgeon will make a small incision in the chest wall or abdominal cavity and remove a sample of tissue to be examined for cancerous cells. Once the fluid or tissue sample has been obtained, your health care provider will have a pathologist examine the sample in order to determine whether there is a type of cancer or disease present in the cells. After a positive mesothelioma diagnosis by the pathologist, your health care provider will recommend an appropriate course of treatment.

Mesothelioma is diagnosed by pathological examination. Tissue is removed, put under the microscope, and a pathologist makes a definitive diagnosis, and issues a pathology report. This is the end of a process that usually begins with symptoms that send most people to the doctor: a fluid build-up or pleural effusions, shortness of breath, pain in the chest, or pain or swelling in the abdomen. The doctor may order an x-ray or CT scan of the chest or abdomen. If further examination is warranted, the following tests may be done:

For pleural mesothelioma the doctor may look inside the chest cavity with a special instrument called a thoracoscope. A cut will be made through the chest wall and the thoracoscope will be put into the chest between two ribs. This test is usually done in a hospital with a local anesthetic or painkiller.

If fluid has collected in your chest, your doctor may drain the fluid out of your body by putting a needle into your chest and use gentle suction to remove the fluid. This is called thoracentesis.

For peritoneal mesothelioma the doctor may also look inside the abdomen with a special tool called a peritoneoscope. The peritoneoscope is put into an opening made in the abdomen. This test is usually done in the hospital under a local anesthetic.

If fluid has collected in your abdomen, your doctor may drain the fluid out of your body by putting a needle into your abdomen and using gentle suction to remove the fluid. This process is called paracentesis.

If abnormal tissue is found, the doctor will need to cut out a small piece and have it looked at under a microscope. This is usually done during the thoracoscopy or peritoneoscopy, but can be done during surgery.

Are victims of mesothelioma entitled to social security disability benefits?

Individuals with impairments caused by certain exposures to asbestos may qualify for disability claims under titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. Sections 216(i) and 1614(a)(3) of the Social Security Act define “disability” as the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment (or combination of impairments) which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.

Malignant mesothelioma of the pleura meets the requirements under section 13.15A. Bronchogenic carcinoma meets listing 13.14A if it is inoperable, unresectable, recurrent, or has metastasized to or beyond the hilar nodes. As a result, either of these diagnoses may qualify a victim of asbestos-related cancer for disability benefits.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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