Malignant Mesothelioma is not easily diagnosed, further complicating treatment of a disease that is fast-spreading and resilient.
One of the first things patients experience is a dry cough and/or shortness of breath caused by a pleural effusion. Shortness of breath is experienced because the effusion (water around the lung) is pushing on the lung, making it difficult to breathe. Most patients presented with these symptoms receive initial treatment but the symptoms tend not to go away, or they may go away but only for a short amount of time.
When symptoms reappear after a few months, the cancer may already be advanced stage. Certain factors—such as a young patient, the absence of lung masses, or lack of a clear reason why the patient has a pleural effusion—are highly suspicious and warrant a more aggressive diagnosis. The earlier mesothelioma is diagnosed, the more varied the treatment options and the better the patient prognosis in most cases.
Most hospitals perform a thoracentesis (drainage of the lung with a needle), but 50 percent of these tests return a negative result. A more aggressive diagnostic approach is therefore recommended, such as a biopsy or a pleuroscopy (camera-assisted biopsy). Diagnostic imaging techniques (i.e. X-rays, CT scans, and MRI) may assist with diagnosis but only a tissue sample can unequivocally diagnose mesothelioma.