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What Do You Need for the Proper Diagnostic of Asbestos-Related Diseases?

By Treven Pyles

Posted on April 21st, 2017 in

Not only will a wrong diagnosis prevent you from benefiting from effective treatment, but it will also hinder you from recovering the financial compensation you deserve.

- By Treven Pyles

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.

However, 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, not few are the asbestos victims who were initially assigned a wrong diagnosis. In addition to the rare nature of asbestos-related diseases, there are other factors which 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 oncologists.

The Prevalence of Asbestos Diseases

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. Receiving a correct diagnosis is vital for your prognosis. Not only will a wrong diagnosis prevent you from benefiting from effective treatment, but it will also hinder you from recovering the financial compensation you deserve. When you decide to take legal recourse, you will have to provide your attorney with your work and medical history. In the absence of a clear diagnosis, we will not be able to help you file for compensation with asbestos trust funds.

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, your physician 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 regarding 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:

  • pulmonologists
  • radiologists
  • surgical oncologists
  • B-readers
  • thoracic surgeons
  • pathologists

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.

Chest X-Rays

While a chest X-ray cannot tell 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 are specializing in examining the radiographs of people who suffer from occupational pulmonary diseases.

Pulmonary Function Tests

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:

  • pulse oximetry, which determines the oxygen levels in your blood
  • lung volume tests employed to measure how much air you can hold in your lungs
  • spirometry, which estimates the size of your lungs and evaluates the rate of air flow
  • lung diffusion capacity, a test used to measure how much oxygen your blood receives from the air you breathe
  • arterial blood gas tests, which evaluate the concentration of various gases in your blood, including oxygen and carbon dioxide

CT Scans

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 a disease.

Biopsies

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. The most common include:

  • thoracoscopy - a minimally invasive procedure during which a thin, flexible tube will be inserted into your chest cavity to allow the surgeon to collect tissue samples
  • bronchoscopy - a thin, flexible tube will be inserted through your nose or mouth to reach your lungs
  • mediastinoscopy - this is another minimally invasive type of biopsy which involves the insertion of the tube through a small incision in your neck or in the left side of your chest
  • thoracotomy - as a traditional biopsy, this procedure is more invasive than the previous ones and it entails a wide incision across your chest which will allow the surgeon to collect tissue samples, as well as directly examine your lungs

If you are diagnosed with asbestosis, mesothelioma or lung cancer, you are eligible for financial compensation from asbestos trust funds. Taking legal recourse will not only hold the wrongdoers responsible for their careless actions but will also help you cover your medical expenses more easily. Do not hesitate to contact Environmental Litigation Group, P.C. as soon as you receive your diagnosis. Unfortunately, time is limited when it comes to asbestos litigation. Due to the statute of limitations, you have between one and six years to file an asbestos claim if you decide to request compensation for your injury.

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