Mesothelioma Diagnostic Tools and Tests

Diagnosing mesothelioma or pleural disease includes a variety of testing methods. Your physician may perform imaging tests as well as a biopsy to determine an accurate diagnosis.

Imaging Tests for Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Imaging tests use x-rays, radioactive particles, or magnetic fields to determine the cause of symptoms that may be signs of mesothelioma. These tests may also be used to indicate how far the cancer has spread, and to help determine if treatment has been effective. Some common types of scans include:

  • X-Ray – a type of electromagnetic imaging used to diagnose different respiratory abnormalities, including bronchitis and pneumonia. Often a chest x-ray is the first imaging technique used in a mesothelioma diagnosis.
  • MRI – magnetic resonance imaging uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create images of the body. The scan may also be used to identify the type and progression of the cancer.
  • PET Scan – positron emission tomography is a type of nuclear medicine scanning technique that uses a radioactive substance to obtain a 3D image of an area to assess organs and tissues. The scan can help in determining if the cancer has spread (metastasized) beyond its point of origin.
  • CT Scan – computed tomography uses x-rays to create images of an area from different angles to diagnose and monitor the extent of the disease.

Biopsy Tests for Mesothelioma Diagnosis

A biopsy is an important diagnostic procedure highly recommended by doctors if you are experiencing signs and symptoms of mesothelioma or have a history of asbestos exposure. Biopsies are the most conclusive way to diagnose mesothelioma. These tests collect small fluid or tissue samples for examination under a microscope to determine if cancer cells are present.

  • Fine Needle Biopsy – fine needle aspiration is the least invasive type of biopsy available. A small amount of fluid or a small piece of tissue is removed by a fine needle inserted into your chest or abdomen.
  • Surgical Biopsy – more invasive surgical biopsies are recommended if results from a needle biopsy are inconclusive or if a needle biopsy is not recommended for medical reasons.

Different types of biopsy procedures that can be used to confirm a diagnosis of mesothelioma include:

  • Broncoscopy – a procedure where a long, thin tube that is connected to a video camera is inserted through the nose or mouth into the trachea and lungs to obtain a sample of tissue for testing.
  • Laparoscopy – a procedure where surgeons use a long, thin tube connected to a video camera to examine the abdominal cavity and to obtain a small tissue sample through a very small incision in the abdomen.
  • Laparotomy – a surgery to open the abdomen allowing a surgeon to check for signs of disease and obtain a sample of tissue for testing.
  • Mediastinoscopy – a procedure used to take tissue samples of the structures in the area between the lungs (mediastinum) to determine if the cancer has spread.
  • Thoracoscopy – a procedure where surgeons insert a long, thin tube connected to a video camera to examine the thoracic cavity and to obtain a small tissue sample through a very small incision in the chest.
  • Thoracotomy – a surgery to open the chest between the ribs to check for signs of disease and obtain a sample of tissue for testing.