Doctors use 4 imaging tests to help diagnose mesothelioma and locate a patient’s tumor. The tests used depend on the type of mesothelioma.

Using Imaging Tests to Locate Tumors and Diagnose

Imaging tests are essential for doctors to make determinations about treatment options. They are used to collect detailed images of a patient’s lungs, heart or abdomen. Imaging is especially important if surgery is an option because the doctor needs to know exactly where the tumor is before operating.

Types of Imaging Tests

  • X-Ray

    Quick and requires no preparation. Usually the first step in making a mesothelioma diagnosis.

  • CT Scan

    More conclusive than X-Rays. CT scans can determine the location of tumors allowing doctors to take a biopsy and make a definite diagnosis.

  • PET Scan

    Mesothelioma cells show up as bright spots on this imaging test making these scans useful for determining the level of metastasis in the patient.

  • MRI Scan

    Used to assess the damage to tissue surrounding the tumor and determine the probability of the patient undergoing a curative surgical procedure. Also useful in diagnoses where CT and PET scans aren’t as effective (peritoneal).

X-Ray Imaging Tests

The First Imaging Test

The First Imaging Test

An X-ray is a test that collects two-dimensional images of the inside of the body by using electromagnetic beams. X-rays are used to examine all parts of the body, including the chest and abdomen. This is usually the first diagnostic imaging test a patient encounters.

For mesothelioma patients, the X-ray helps to determine if there is an anomaly in their lungs, abdomen, or heart. X-rays of the chest or abdomen can show fluid buildup around the organs. This fluid may also indicate the presence of mesothelioma.

Patients receiving chest X-rays stand as the image is captured, while those receiving abdominal X-rays lay down. There is no special preparation that needs to be done before an X-ray.

About X-Rays

  • Pre-Procedure: None Needed
  • Post-Procedure: More images may have to be taken at a later time

  • 1 millisieverts = 10 days of natural radiation
    Radiation Amount
  • 15-20 minutes
    Procedure Time
  • No
    Invasive

CT Scan Imaging Tests

Computed Tomography Scan

Computed Tomography Scan

A computed tomography scan (CT scan) is a three-dimensional imaging test used to generate detailed images of specific regions of the body. A CT scan uses X-rays and computer technology to gather multiple images of the same organ at different angles. These images are then merged to create a cross sectional image.

The patient lays down on a table as they slowly enter the cylinder, commonly referred to as the “donut”. This imaging test can be used to examine bone, blood vessels, and tissue. A CT scan determines if there are any tumors or tissue abnormalities of which the patients should be aware.

Iodine fluid, or radiocontrast (contrast), may be injected to improve visibility within the body on the scans. Iodine is primarily used in patients with peritoneal mesothelioma and patients receive a small IV of the fluid. In some cases relating to the pelvic region, patients drink the contrast liquid.

CT scans are the primary imaging technique for a patient with suspected pleural mesothelioma. One study showed pleural thickening was evident in 92% of pleural mesothelioma patients who underwent a CT scan. Pleural effusion occurred in 74% of those patients.

About CT Scans

  • Pre-Procedure: Some patients may drink or receive an IV of a contrast liquid so images can be seen
  • Post-Procedure: More images may have to be taken at a later time

  • 10 millisieverts = 3 years of natural radiation
    Radiation Amount
  • 30-45 minutes
    Procedure Time
  • No
    Invasive

PET Scan Imaging Tests

Positron Emission Tomography Scan

Positron Emission Tomography Scan

Positron emission tomography (PET) is an imaging test used to determine how organs or systems in the body are functioning. They are primarily used to detect the presence of cancers in target areas of the body. A small dose of radiopharmaceutical material helps cancer cells appear brighter when the image is collected.

This radiopharmaceutical can be injected into the bloodstream, swallowed or inhaled as a gas. Images are collected in the same way CT and MRI scans are, through a rotating cylinder that gathers images from all angles.

PET scans can show the presence of tumors and how far along the cancer has metastasized. Patients can leave and resume their normal day after the test is over. PET scans are 89% accurate in distinguishing between a benign and malignant mesothelioma tumor.

About PET Scans

  • Pre-Procedure: 1 hour before, a radiopharmaceutical material is injected
  • Post-Procedure: A second CT scan may be performed to collect more detailed images during a PET scan.

  • 7 millisieverts = 2 years of natural radiation
    Radiation Amount
  • 90 minutes
    Procedure Time
  • No
    Invasive

MRI Scan Imaging Tests

Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scan

Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scan

A magnetic resonance imaging scan (MRI) creates a complex detailed image of the soft tissue in a specific area. No x-rays are involved in this imaging test. An MRI uses magnets to create the image. MRIs are primarily used for staging mesothelioma and creating a treatment plan that works best for a specific patient.

Patients lay down a table and slowly enter a cylinder into a magnetic field where the images are gathered. Patients have to stay extremely still in order to create the best images possible.

About MRI Tests

  • Pre-Procedure: None Needed
  • Post-Procedure: A second MRI scan may be performed to collect more detailed images.

  • None
    Radiation Amount
  • 45-60 minutes
    Procedure Time
  • No
    Invasive

Why Are Imaging Tests So Important?

Taking imaging tests is typically the first step in diagnosing mesothelioma. Patients experiencing symptoms are examined with imaging tests to make a determination about any abnormalities in the body. These tests can reveal the presence of tumors in the patient, but further testing is required to determine if the tumors are mesothelioma.

X-rays and CT scans are the most common imaging tests used; however, some tests aren’t as effective as others for certain types of mesothelioma. CT scans, for example, aren’t very effective in peritoneal mesothelioma patients because gas in the intestines can be mistaken for tumors.

While imaging tests are one of the most important tools in diagnosis, they can’t tell the whole story. Seeing a specialist is imperative for patients showing symptoms of mesothelioma. This disease is hard to diagnose and is often mistaken for other types of cancer such as adenocarcinoma or lung cancer. Get connected with a mesothelioma specialist to make sure you get a proper diagnosis.