By Treven Pyles
Posted on April 21st, 2017
The low prevalence of asbestos-related diseases has led to a very concerning issue over the years - a high rate of misdiagnosis. According to the National Cancer Institute, up to 20% of people who have been heavily exposed to asbestos in the past will develop a disease. Nevertheless, frequently, asbestos victims are initially misdiagnosed. In addition to the rare nature of asbestos-related diseases, there are other factors that contribute to the alarming rate of misdiagnosis. The similarity between asbestos-related diseases and less severe conditions such as pneumonia or bronchitis in terms of symptoms, as well as their complexity, can also mislead medical professionals.
Although mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis are quite common among people with a history of asbestos exposure, these diseases are not very well-known by most medical professionals. There are over 200,000 new lung cancer cases every year in the U.S., out of which only 4,800 occur as a consequence of asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma is also a rare disease, representing approximately 0.3% of all cancer diagnoses. Thus, it is probably not surprising that the majority of oncologists do not have the chance to examine patients suffering from these illnesses very often.
To make sure your health will be properly evaluated, we highly advise you to choose a specialist in asbestos-related diseases, preferably with relevant practical experience. Because they focus exclusively on the diagnostic and treatment of these illnesses, your chances of being misdiagnosed will be very slim.
Generally, physicians will first ask you about your work history. It is recommended to share everything you can remember about your asbestos exposure with them, as this will give them an idea about how severe your condition might be. Subsequently, after a standard physical examination, your doctor will refer you to a series of other specialists, such as:
Because asbestos-related diseases are complex and resemble other pulmonary disorders, multiple tests are employed to ensure you will receive an accurate diagnosis, hence the number of additional specialists who are going to be involved in your examination. The following diagnostic procedures are typically used to evaluate patients with a history of asbestos exposure. We strongly encourage you to visit a specialist as soon as possible, regardless of whether you experience symptoms or not, as failing to receive a correct diagnosis can have devastating consequences for your health.
While a chest X-ray cannot be used to determine whether you have asbestos fibers in your lungs, it will provide basic information about the condition of your organs. Pleural plaques and pleural effusion, which often accompany mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer, can easily be seen on X-rays. This diagnostic method can also detect asbestosis, as the affected portion of your lungs will appear white on a chest X-ray. After you undergo this test, the images will be analyzed by a radiologist or by a B-reader. For asbestos-related diseases, the expertise of a B-reader might be more valuable, as they specialize in examining the radiographs of people who suffer from occupational pulmonary diseases.
Computed tomography is an extremely useful diagnostic tool for people with a history of asbestos exposure. Unlike X-rays, a CT scan will provide very complex and detailed images of your lungs and can detect asbestos-related diseases in their incipient phases. Moreover, a CT scan might prove to be life-saving for patients whose chest X-rays are vague or do not show any abnormalities, as computed tomography can reveal the early onset of mesothelioma, lung cancer, or asbestosis. Although asbestos fibers are not visible on the images, a CT scan will help your doctor timely detect the signs of disease.
These tests are used to determine whether the function of your lungs is impaired and if it is, to what extent. When you have an asbestos-related disease, the function of your lungs will inevitably be affected and the results of pulmonary function tests will help your physician assess the severity of your condition. There are numerous pulmonary function tests, each evaluating a certain aspect of how well your lungs are working. Some of the most common are:
There are two types of biopsies: nonsurgical and surgical. A non-surgical approach might be recommended to patients with pleural effusion, as it involves collecting a sample of fluid from the lungs, which will subsequently be examined by a cytologist for the presence of cancer cells. However, this is not a very reliable method of detecting mesothelioma or asbestos-related lung cancer.
On the other hand, surgical biopsies are the most accurate diagnostic methods which can also confirm the presence of asbestos fibers in the lungs. During a surgical biopsy, one or multiple small samples of tissue will be collected from your lungs and will then be thoroughly examined by a pathologist. Additionally, if malignant cells are discovered, the pathologist will be able to properly identify them and you will be assigned a precise diagnosis. Surgical biopsies are of many types, depending on how they are performed.
When performing an endoscopic procedure, a doctor inserts a tube-like device into the patient's body so they can examine the organs. The endoscope is a tube that has a light and camera attached to its end. The most common endoscopies include:
An ectomy, for example, a thoracotomy, is a procedure more invasive than the endoscopy and it involves the collection of tissue samples and the direct examination of lungs through a wide incision across the chest.
To have a viable claim for compensation, an individual must have an asbestos-related disease that causes, or contributes to an impairment, such as respiratory impairments, chest pains, fatigue, and difficulty with mobility. If you were exposed to asbestos in the workplace, there is a considerable chance your health will be affected at some point in the future due to the asbestos fibers you have inhaled. When you decide to take legal recourse, it's important to document your work and medical history. In the absence of a clear diagnosis, you may not be able to file a successful claim for compensation with asbestos trust funds.