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Diagnosing and treating mesothelioma can be extremely difficult. The symptoms of this rare cancer may be confused with a variety of other diseases and illnesses – some serious and others very common and benign. Thus, many mesothelioma patients suffer through months of painful symptoms before receiving a proper diagnosis. Unfortunately for some, a proper mesothelioma diagnosis is not made until the patients are in the final stages of the cancer, severely limiting their treatment options.

As soon as you or your doctor suspects a mesothelioma diagnosis, you should seek a second opinion from a mesothelioma specialist. The earlier proper treatments are started the more likely your life will be extended.

Why is a second opinion important in mesothelioma?

Because mesothelioma is an uncommon type of cancer with a very specific cause — asbestos exposure — not many doctors have experience diagnosing or treating it.

“Most physicians only see one to two [mesothelioma] cases in their career. If a patient is diagnosed by a physician who doesn’t see a lot of mesothelioma, a second opinion is a great idea,” Dr. David Rice, a professor in surgery who conducts mesothelioma treatment research at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, explained in an article for EverydayHealth.com. “In my opinion, a patient should always want to be seen at a center that has a lot of experience with this disease.”

Unfortunately, mesothelioma is a very aggressive cancer, and getting a diagnosis and proper treatment as early as possible is important. That’s why getting a second opinion is so important. Whether your primary care doctor has made the mesothelioma diagnosis, or you are experiencing symptoms and are concerned about a mesothelioma misdiagnosis, seeking out a second opinion from an experienced mesothelioma specialist will help you get the best treatment options available.

How can I find a mesothelioma specialist?

With only 3,000 people diagnosed with mesothelioma each year in the United States, most health care facilities do not have specialized doctors and surgeons on staff to effectively treat the aggressive cancer. However, there are a number of specialists and treatment centers throughout New York and the United States that focus on mesothelioma. In addition to having experience and expertise in the disease, these mesothelioma treatment centers also offer patients better access to clinical trials and updates on new types of treatments.

To help you locate the best mesothelioma treatment options in your area, we have produced a list of mesothelioma treatment facilities and a list of specialists in the United States. If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or are concerned about a mesothelioma misdiagnosis, contact a treatment center or specialist near you immediately to get a second opinion and get started on the proper treatment path.

What are factors that contribute to a mesothelioma misdiagnosis?

The symptoms associated with mesothelioma are common to many types of diseases and ailments, both serious and minor. The most common type of the cancer, pleural mesothelioma, affects the tissue lining the chest cavity and the lungs, so misdiagnoses often include pneumonia, the flu, other respiratory illnesses and even lung cancer. The second-most common type, peritoneal mesothelioma, affects the tissue lining the abdominal cavity and abdominal organs, so the disease can masquerade as a variety of gastrointestinal problems.

Mesothelioma can develop 15 to 60 years after a person has been exposed to asbestos, which means patients and doctors may not immediately connect the asbestos exposure to the mesothelioma symptoms.

It is very important to talk to your doctor about asbestos exposure if you are experiencing any of the symptoms associated with mesothelioma. Unless your doctor is aware of your previous exposure to asbestos, he or she may not consider a mesothelioma diagnosis.

How do mesothelioma treatment centers diagnose mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma treatment centers have the tools and the experience to make a proper mesothelioma diagnosis. Mesothelioma specialists often use the following tests and procedures to confirm whether or not a patient has the disease:

Physical exam: The medical team will typically start by going over a patient’s symptoms, checking for lumps or other signs of the disease, and discussing the patient’s history of exposure to asbestos.

Diagnostic imaging tests: A doctor may order an X-ray, a CT scan or an MRI to help pinpoint tumors and the cancer’s location. However, further tests are needed to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis.

Biopsy: A doctor will need to examine a tissue sample collected from the affected area to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis. Tissue samples may be collected with a fine needle or through an incision. A series of tests may be done on the collected tissue sample and cells to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis.

Some of these tests may have been performed already by your primary care physician, but a specialist may choose to order a second round of tests to make sure they were done accurately or look for additional details the original tests did not show. Dr. Rice of the MD Anderson Cancer Center explained to EverydayHealth.com.

How will getting a second opinion early affect my treatment options?

Mesothelioma Centers have more experience treating mesothelioma and access to better treatment options. Although there is no definitive cure for the disease, you have better treatment options and a better prognosis when mesothelioma is diagnosed at an early stage. For example, patients who are diagnosed early may have the option of surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible before it has spread. Patients who seek a second opinion at a mesothelioma treatment center and receive a proper diagnosis early also have access to research and clinical trial information that may help them shape their treatment plan.

In short, taking charge of your diagnosis by getting a second opinion on mesothelioma as soon as possible could greatly affect your treatment options and prognosis. So if you are concerned that you have mesothelioma or have already been diagnosed, contact a mesothelioma expert near you today.

If you have been exposed to asbestos, even if it happened decades ago, and are concerned about a mesothelioma diagnosis, seek a second opinion right away. And talk to a doctor who specializes in mesothelioma. The extra step of getting a second opinion from a mesothelioma expert can save you from wasting valuable time on the diagnosis guessing game and get you on the path to proper treatment.

Lisa Hyde-Barrett

About the Author - 

Lisa Hyde-Barrett has helped ease the stress of patients and their families by offering a comforting hand. Lisa has 25 years of experience as a thoracic surgery nurse at Brigham and Women’s Hospital a top 5 nationally ranked cancer hospital. Lisa works with leading nationally-recognized surgeons who specialize in mesothelioma. Through her extensive experience caring for mesothelioma patients, she is a facilitator for the patient to help them maintain control and dignity over their treatment of their disease and to assist with the patient’s wishes. She is passionate about helping the mesothelioma community.

Published: Jan 7, 2017 - Updated: Jan 18, 2017