Tuesday, February 7, 2012

How is Medical Imaging Used to Diagnose Mesothelioma? by Wendy Moyer

If a person has a pain in his or her chest, finds it hard to breathe, has a swollen abdomen, and is experiencing a dry, persistent cough, then they'll probably go to their doctor to have an examination in the hope of being treated.

Although these are all symptoms of mesothelioma there are other diseases that can cause them as well. For example, mesothelioma may initially be diagnosed as lung cancer. However, lung cancer is a totally different disease.

Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lung, the lining of the chest, and the abdominal cavity. The disease has been predominantly associated with high levels of exposure to asbestos in the workplace, although exposure to asbestos in non-occupational situations has caused the disease as well.

A mesothelioma diagnosis will usually start with a review of a patient's medical history, which would be followed by a physical examination.

The physical exam usually involves several imaging tests. These tests try to determine if there are any suspicious cell formations.

Most Commonly Used Medical Imaging Tests

X-rays of the abdomen or chest can show masses, fluid build-up, or can indicate non-cancerous pleural disease. However, although they won't always show evidence of growths of diffuse cancer on the mesothelium, they will show shadows of single tumors that often occur when a patient has peritoneal mesothelioma.

CT Scans (Computed Tomography) create images of layers or cross-sections of a person's body. Although they can more readily detect any abnormalities at a specific depth in the body they can't differentiate between malignant mesothelioma and benign mesothelioma.

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans photograph the details within a person's body by using a computer-linked magnet. Although an MRI can determine how severe a tumor is it can't determine whether it is cancerous.

PET (Positron Emission Tomography) analyses biological processes and produces a 3D image that can identify cancer cells. PET imaging tests are now one of the most effective ways to diagnose mesothelioma tumors. In addition, PET scans can help to determine the stage the cancer is in.

Since cancer cells accelerate the use of glucose, and because glucose is part of the radioactive tracer isotope that is used during a PET imaging test, cancer cells can be flagged using PET analysis.

Although medical imaging technology can identify potentially cancerous growths and conditions such as pleural mesothelioma, they cannot alone be used to confirm a diagnosis. Malignant mesothelioma needs to be confirmed with a biopsy. Either the fluid from peritoneal or pleural effusion - or both - need to be analyzed to confirm the diagnosis.