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Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer whose symptoms tend to mimic those of more common, less threatening diseases. This fact, along with the long latency period, can make a diagnosis of mesothelioma difficult. A diagnosis of mesothelioma is often obtained through a review of the patient’s medical history, including any history of asbestos exposure, along with a careful assessment of clinical and radiological findings. A complete physical examination may be performed, including x-rays of the chest or abdomen and lung function tests. A CT/CAT scan or MRI may also be done at this time. These tests help to determine the location, size and type of cancer. If these preliminary tests indicate signs of mesothelioma, the doctor will need to order a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.
To perform a biopsy, the doctor will remove a tissue sample from the affected area for examination under a microscope by a pathologist. A biopsy may be done in different ways, depending on where the affected area is located. If the cancer is located in the patient’s chest, the doctor may perform a thoracoscopy. A thorascopy is a procedure in which a very small incision is made in the chest wall between two ribs and a tissue sample is removed for testing. If the patient’s cancer is located in the abdomen, the doctor may perform a peritoneoscopy. In this procedure, the doctor makes a small opening in the abdomen and inserts a special instrument called a peritoneoscope into the abdominal cavity to obtain tissue for examination. If these procedures do not yield enough tissue, more extensive diagnostic surgery may be necessary.
Once a diagnosis of mesothelioma has been confirmed, the doctor will evaluate the stage (or extent) of the cancer to determine the proper treatment plan.
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