Mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed mainly because of nonspecific symptoms
Any misdiagnosis ultimately leads to delayed treatment and the worst prognosis. One or more of the following issues can prolong a proper mesothelioma diagnosis:
- History of exposure to asbestos, which is not clear: For most people, their history of asbestos exposure may be unknown and they never realize that they were exposed to asbestos dust because the asbestos fibers are not visible to the naked eye. This is especially true in cases of secondhand exposure. Suspecting mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases is quite challenging without a clear history of asbestos exposure.
- Mesothelioma symptoms are non-specific: The initial symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include difficulty in breathing, chronic cough, chest pain, and fever, which point towards a more common ailment such as a common cold, asthma, or the flu. The long latency period ranging from 10-50 years makes it difficult to recognize the symptoms in early stages; moreover, the initial symptoms are mild and go unnoticed for some time.
- Inaccurate cell type and staging: Sometimes, patients with a mesothelioma diagnosis may still face complications due to inaccuracy in identifying the cell type. For example, epithelioid mesothelioma is less likely to metastasize and is responsive to treatment whereas sarcomatoid mesothelioma is aggressive and has fewer options for treatment.
Recognizing the signs of mesothelioma is an extremely challenging task because each case of the rare asbestos cancer is unique. Only 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma get diagnosed each year and most primary care physicians who have limited experience with the disease may tend to mistake it for common illnesses like the flu.