Mesothelioma is an extremely hard disease to properly diagnose. It is vital to get a proper diagnosis in order to get the most effective treatment.
Have You Been Diagnosed Properly?
Mesothelioma is one of the rarest diseases known to medicine. Because of its rarity, most doctors don’t recognize it for what it is, making misdiagnoses all too common. Additionally, detection methods are still catching up with other illnesses in terms of accuracy.
Steps of a Proper Diagnosis
Recognizing How Hard Detection Can Be
Mesothelioma is one of the hardest diseases to detect for several reasons. For one, this is an extremely rare disease, meaning it is uncommon for general practitioners to encounter mesothelioma. This disease also shares many symptoms with more common illnesses, which can lead to a misdiagnosis.
Getting a second opinion from a specialist is the best way to approach any diagnosis. Because mesothelioma is so rare, misdiagnoses are unfortunately common. However, a second opinion can open the door to a variety of additional treatment options.
Early detection of mesothelioma is still a long way from perfection, but there is a lot of research underway to make it more accurate. Currently, the only proven way to diagnose mesothelioma is through a tissue biopsy, which is why imaging tests require further investigation.
Most patients make their first visit to the doctor complaining of chest or abdominal pains. In the case of mesothelioma, these pains are caused by fluid buildup (known as effusions) in the chest or abdominal cavity. These effusions show up on imaging tests but may be mistaken for something else if the patient is only experiencing minor symptoms.
Chest pains and shortness of breath are symptomatic of pleural mesothelioma. However, they are also common symptoms of other respiratory ailments such as pneumonia. Peritoneal mesothelioma patients face a similar struggle with symptoms mirroring those of more common illnesses.
Common Cancer Misdiagnoses
In addition to being mistaken for common illnesses, mesothelioma is also sometimes misdiagnosed as other cancers. Pleural mesothelioma has been confused with several types of lung cancer — most notably, adenocarcinoma. Peritoneal diagnoses are often initially thought to be ovarian cancer. This has to do with the difficulty of diagnosing mesothelioma.
1. Trouble with scans
Doctors often suspect more common cancers to be the cause of a tumor when they order X-rays and CT scans. These scans are only useful up to the point of locating tumors, and biopsies are required to get an accurate diagnosis.
2. Difficulties in pathology
Pathologists are responsible for examining the biopsy samples and studying the cellular structure of the tissue or fluid sample to determine if it is mesothelioma. Pathologists can make mistakes when it comes to diagnosing these samples because some cancers have similar cellular structures to mesothelioma. Additionally, it’s likely the pathologist has never encountered mesothelioma before because it is such a rare disease.
3. Fluid samples are unreliable
The biggest struggle in correctly diagnosing mesothelioma is when fluid biopsies are used. Fluid buildup is often collected from around the lungs or abdomen because it is easier to get a fluid sample than a tissue sample.
However, it is harder to see cells under the microscope with fluid samples. Even tissue acquired through fine needle aspiration can be inaccurate. This leads to misdiagnoses of more common cancers. Mesothelioma usually requires a more thorough tissue biopsy to get an accurate diagnosis.
Misdiagnosis by Stage
Though mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed as the wrong illness, it may also be misdiagnosed in the stage of the disease. Some patients who are initially diagnosed with a later stage of mesothelioma may discover that the disease isn’t as advanced as assumed and vice versa.
One reason a misdiagnosis by stage of the disease can occur is simply because every patient is different. Doctors understand that there are general symptoms for each stage, but some patients may experience symptoms at different stages than is typical.
There is also yet to be a generally accepted staging system for mesothelioma, meaning certain staging systems may be predicated on different symptoms than others.
If you’ve been diagnosed with advanced mesothelioma, it is imperative that you receive a second opinion from a mesothelioma specialist. Receiving a definitive diagnosis is the key to getting the most effective treatment for your specific case of mesothelioma. Find a mesothelioma specialist for your second opinion using our free Doctor Match program.
How Does Misdiagnosis Affect Treatment Options?
A misdiagnosis can mean prolonging proper treatment, which is why second opinions are so important. Fortunately, treatment options are available for all stages of mesothelioma.
Misdiagnosis by stage is particularly important in the treatment options available for mesothelioma patients. Curative surgeries, for example, are determined to be acceptable on the basis of the patient’s stage. Even certain chemotherapy methods are based on the stage of the disease.
If you experience a misdiagnosis that was more optimistic than the true diagnosis, there is still hope for extending life. Research has shown that palliative (pain-relieving) treatments can have a benefit on life expectancy in cancer patients. There are also a variety of clinical trials that offer innovative treatment approaches that may not be available to the general public. Clinical trials hold the potential to provide a new lease on life.
The Next Step for Misdiagnosis Prevention
Although a diagnosis can be disheartening, it can also be a blessing in disguise. Sometimes a misdiagnosis is more grave than the actual diagnosis, which has been the case for some mesothelioma survivors.
Survivor Jodi Page was misdiagnosed until she saw a mesothelioma specialist to get a proper diagnosis. Jodi, a survivor of pleural mesothelioma, saw her general practitioner several times to treat what was believed to be a pneumonia before she was diagnosed with advanced stage mesothelioma by a general oncologist. However, after a second opinion from a specialist, she was diagnosed at Stage 2 and became a candidate for radical curative treatment.
Mesothelioma survivor Jodi Page knows the value of second opinions, stating that it made “a huge difference” in terms of available treatment options. She was originally misdiagnosed with advanced pleural mesothelioma, but a second opinion proved she was eligible for life-saving surgery.
Getting a proper diagnosis from a mesothelioma specialist is the primary way patients can take control of their disease. Find a specialist for your diagnosis with our free Doctor Match program.