- By Shaniqua Williams
Mesothelioma is a very rare and complex form of cancer, with approximately 3,000 cases diagnosed annually in the U.S. In addition to the low prevalence of mesothelioma, the symptoms associated with this malignant disease can easily be mistaken for the signs of less severe respiratory or gastrointestinal conditions such as asthma, pneumonia or irritable bowel syndrome. Occasionally, mesothelioma can also be misdiagnosed as lung cancer or adenocarcinoma, a form of cancer which affects the mucus-secreting glands. Receiving a reliable and accurate diagnosis is crucial, as mesothelioma has a very aggressive progress and treatment should never be unnecessarily delayed.
Unfortunately, the rate of mesothelioma misdiagnosis is very high and a tremendous number of patients are thereby prevented from undergoing effective treatment, which could considerably improve their prognosis. If the disease is not promptly attended to, most patients will survive for only one year. Consequently, finding a specialist with a vast experience in mesothelioma cases is essential to prevent misdiagnosis and gain access to all treatment options available. A combination of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery can significantly prolong your life expectancy or, if cancer was detected in its early phases, even lead to remission. Additionally, an oncologist specialized in mesothelioma can guide you towards experimental treatments you can undergo in a clinical trial, which are often incredibly efficient.
The most commonly experienced symptoms of pleural mesothelioma, which accounts for nearly 80% of all diagnosed mesothelioma cases, include shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, a persistent cough and unintentional weight loss. However, these are also signs frequently associated with the following respiratory conditions:
Peritoneal mesothelioma represents less than 20% of all cases and typically entails symptoms such as abdominal pain, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, excess fluid in the abdomen, loss of appetite and build up of gas. Similar signs also accompany less severe gastrointestinal conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, as well as other malignant diseases occurring in the abdominal cavity, including:
Approximately 2% of all mesothelial tumors develop on the outer lining of the heart, hence the extremely low number of pericardial mesothelioma patients. The most frequently experienced symptoms are heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, fatigue, fever, night sweats, chest pain and a persistent coughing, which can also be found in patients suffering from:
Testicular mesothelioma is the rarest form, occurring in less than 1% of patients diagnosed with mesothelioma. Although a specific set of symptoms could not be identified yet due to the low number of documented cases, some signs which could indicate the presence of testicular mesothelioma are an abnormal lump in the testicles, pain, swelling and fluid buildup. This type of mesothelioma can thus easily be mistaken for one of the following diseases:
Diagnosing mesothelioma is very challenging for multiple reasons. There are numerous factors which may contribute to the disease being misdiagnosed as a more frequently occurring condition or even as another form of cancer with similar symptoms. Some of the most common reasons why mesothelioma fails to be recognized by oncologists are:
Both pleural mesothelioma and lung cancer develop in the chest cavity and are accompanied by virtually the same symptoms. However, the two diseases are dissimilar in many respects. Although lung cancer can also be caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos, it is an entirely different form of cancer than mesothelioma. Distinguishing between lung cancer and pleural mesothelioma is crucial, as each malignant disease requires a very specific treatment regimen. Regrettably, it is not uncommon for mesothelioma to be misdiagnosed as lung cancer due to the similarities both types of cancer display, which results in numerous patients undergoing the wrong treatment.
It is essential to be aware of the main differences between pleural mesothelioma and lung cancer so as to prevent misdiagnosis. We have compiled a list of the clearest dissimilarities between the two forms of cancer which will hopefully help you avoid receiving an inaccurate diagnosis:
As previously discussed, mesothelioma is a complex disease which can easily be misdiagnosed for various reasons. The majority of oncologists have not come across a mesothelioma case throughout their practice, as the disease is very rare and the number of cases documented in medical literature is limited. Additionally, a series of other problematic aspects can arise in the diagnostic process, as mesothelioma mimics the symptoms of multiple other conditions. Consequently, choosing a board certified oncologist specialized in mesothelioma cases who has a vast experience in treating it is absolutely crucial to avoid misdiagnosis and gain access to appropriate treatment.
Mesothelioma has a very rapid and aggressive progress and early diagnosis is vital. Detecting cancer in its early stages will not only provide you with the maximum treatment options available, but it can also substantially improve your prognosis and quality of life. However, the incipient phases of mesothelioma are rarely associated with distressing symptoms, while many people do not experience any symptoms at all until the cancer is very advanced. This is why it is essential to get regularly tested by an experienced specialist if you have a history of asbestos exposure.
A mesothelioma specialist will promptly order a series of tests and examination procedures which will eventually reveal whether you suffer from mesothelioma or not. Nevertheless, it is important to know that the entire diagnostic process may take up to three months, as the oncologist will first try to eliminate common causes which might be responsible for your symptoms and you will have to undergo multiple tests for an accurate evaluation, so seeking medical assistance as soon as you notice even the slightest signs is also crucial and could save your life. The most relevant tests for mesothelioma include:
Mesothelioma is often times challenging to diagnose and accurately assess even for the most experienced specialists. Asking for a second opinion is always a good idea and you should not hesitate to discuss your mesothelioma diagnosis with another oncologist. Second opinions are crucial when it comes to all types of cancer and are particularly more valuable when rare malignant diseases such as mesothelioma are suspected.
We strongly encourage you to get a second opinion, even if you are satisfied with the medical services and expertise of your current oncologist. Nevertheless, it is highly recommended to find an equally or even more experienced mesothelioma specialist who is not affiliated with the same hospital as your primary specialist. This way, you will receive an objective, unbiased second opinion from a competent medical professional who may be able to offer you additional information about your disease. A second opinion might prove to be crucial for your prognosis if essential aspects regarding your diagnosis have been missed by your first specialist.
The intricate nature of mesothelioma, its long latency period of up to five decades and the symptoms which resemble the signs of numerous other conditions frequently lead to this disease being misdiagnosed or entirely overlooked by oncologists. For this reason, mesothelioma might also be severely underreported. To prevent misdiagnosis, we advise you to regard the following aspects:
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