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Mesothelioma Diagnostic Imaging Scans

imaging tests

When a patient first begins experiencing symptoms that may point to mesothelioma, the doctor will usually do a physical exam, discuss the person’s work or service history, and order diagnostic imaging tests to get a better idea of what the patient is facing. These imaging tests will help your doctor make a mesothelioma diagnosis and determine what types of treatment may be most effective.

For patients who are undergoing diagnostic imaging tests for mesothelioma, you should know that financial help is available after a mesothelioma diagnosis. Contact us today to learn about your legal options and get connected with the support you need during this difficult time.


If you are experiencing mesothelioma symptoms such as a chronic cough, chest pain, or shortness of breath, your doctor will likely start by ordering a chest X-ray. An X-ray may be done at your doctor’s office, an imaging clinic, or a hospital. During this diagnostic imaging test, you will be positioned in front of a plate that detects X-rays. An X-ray machine will then send small amounts of radiation through your body, which will absorb some of it. The radiation that passes through to the detector behind you will create a radiograph that can show tumors and other dense masses.

Preparing for an X-ray

An X-ray usually does not require much preparation on your part. Your doctor may ask you to take a contrast dye beforehand to enhance the X-ray images. This dye may be swallowed, injected, or administered as an enema. If you are having an X-ray of your abdominal area, your doctor may require you to refrain from eating or drinking beforehand.

What your doctor may learn from an X-ray

Results may show thickening of the pleura (or the tissue lining the lungs), pleural plaques, fluid build-up, or other lung problems that point to mesothelioma. Your doctor will use your X-ray results to order additional diagnostic imaging tests.

CT Scans

Computerized tomography scans, more commonly known as CT scans, use a combination of X-ray images that give a cross-sectional view of the scanned area. The CT scanner is shaped like a large ring, and patients lie on a table that slides through the ring while the scanner takes X-rays from many angles. The CT scanner produces images that look like slices of the body, and these images show soft tissue more clearly than traditional X-rays. CT scans may be done at a hospital or a diagnostic imaging center.

Preparing for a CT scan

CT scans do not hurt, but they do require you to lie very still while the images are being taken. You may also be asked to hold your breath during some scans. As with a basic X-ray, your doctor may request that you take a contrast dye orally or through an IV to get a clearer image. Some patients may be allergic to the iodine-based contrast material used in CT scans.

What your doctor may learn from a CT scan

Initially, a CT scan can show your doctor exactly where mesothelioma is in your body. It can also help your doctor determine the stage of the cancer and the extent to which it may have spread. Your doctor can use this information to decide whether you should undergo surgery to treat mesothelioma. During the treatment process, your doctor may use additional CT scans to assess whether chemotherapy is working.

PET Scans

A positron emission tomography scan, or PET scan, involves injecting a solution with a radioactive tracer into the body to show how the cells in the body absorb the solution. In some circumstances, the solution may be ingested orally or inhaled in a gas form. About 30 minutes to an hour after the solution is administered, patients lie on a table that moves through a large ring (similar to a CT scan). The PET scanner creates an image of radioactivity in the body, marking in particular where abnormal cancer cells absorbed the solution.

Preparing for a PET scan: You may be asked not to eat for eight hours before your PET scan. If you are diabetic, your doctor will give you special dietary instructions. Like a CT scan, you will need to lie still for about 30 minutes while the PET scan is being conducted. You may also be asked to hold your breath.

What your doctor may learn from a PET scan: The PET scan gives your doctor more information about the abnormalities that may have been detected on your CT scan. Because cancer cells metabolize the PET solution differently from normal cells, this test can help determine whether an abnormality is cancerous. The scan can also show whether mesothelioma has spread, or metastasized, to other parts of the body such as lymph nodes.

MRI Scans

Magnetic resonance imaging, or an MRI scan, may be used in combination with other diagnostic imaging tests to form detailed pictures of the affected area. Unlike CT scans, though, MRIs use magnets and radio waves to create these computer images. Patients usually lie in a long, narrow tube during the scan, which may be done in a hospital or imaging center.

Preparing for an MRI

As with other imaging tests, you may receive an injection of a contrast solution to make the MRI scan more clear. You will need to lie still for a longer period of time ─ possibly up to an hour. Some patients feel claustrophobic in MRI machines, so you may ask your doctor if an open MRI is an option for you. MRIs also tend to make noises that bother some patients, so you may request earplugs ahead of time. Be sure to tell your doctor if you have any metal implanted in your body, such as a pacemaker.

What your doctor may learn from an MRI

Because MRI scans provide a better image of soft tissue in the body, these images can help your doctor determine the extent of a malignant mesothelioma tumor and whether the cancer has spread. Your doctor may also order an MRI after you have begun treatment to assess how your cancer is responding.

Imaging Tests Guide the Mesothelioma Diagnostic Process

If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of mesothelioma, you should see your doctor as soon as possible and explain your history of asbestos exposure. Your doctor will want to act quickly to reach a proper diagnosis and develop a treatment plan that meets your needs.

After a mesothelioma diagnosis, you should also know that financial compensation may be available to you, the treatment plans and the prognosis of the disease. Contact us today to discuss the process for seeking compensation after a mesothelioma diagnosis.

Sources & Author:

  1. American Cancer Society: How Is Malignant Mesothelioma Diagnosed?
  2. Medscape: Malignant Mesothelioma Imaging

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