Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure that can be difficult to diagnose. Doctors perform physical exams, imaging tests, and a biopsy to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis. Once diagnosed, patients should seek treatment as soon as possible. Lung Cancer Group can help you find a mesothelioma specialist to get an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.

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How Is Mesothelioma Diagnosed?

If you have a history of asbestos exposure and are experiencing a chronic cough, fatigue, shortness of breath, or other symptoms, talk with your doctor as soon as possible to begin testing for a mesothelioma diagnosis.

To diagnose mesothelioma, doctors go through a multi-step process, beginning with a physical exam and discussion about your symptoms and medical history.

Once the initial appointment is done, you’ll need to get several imaging tests, such as computed tomography (CT) scans and X-rays, and possibly some blood tests. These help pinpoint the location of potentially cancerous tissue and rule out other health conditions.

If abnormal tissue is detected in a CT scan or X-ray, doctors will then perform a biopsy to take a tissue or fluid sample and examine it in a lab. This is the final step of confirming a mesothelioma diagnosis.

Key Facts About Mesothelioma
  • Cause: The only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos
  • Life expectancy: Typically 12-21 months after diagnosis, but treatment can extend life expectancy
  • Misdiagnosis: Nearly 23% of mesothelioma cases are misdiagnosed at first
  • Rarity: Mesothelioma is rare with about 3,000 people diagnosed each year
  • Symptoms: Symptoms may not become noticeable until the cancer is more advanced making it difficult to diagnosis
  • Types: There are 4 different types of mesothelioma

If you or someone you love needs help with a mesothelioma diagnosis, connect with our on-staff nurses now. They can find a mesothelioma specialist near you and help you pursue financial assistance resources.

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Is Diagnosing Mesothelioma Difficult?

Yes, diagnosing mesothelioma can be difficult, because symptoms take 10-50 years to develop and may be mistaken for other less serious conditions.

Symptoms of mesothelioma often include:

  • Chest, rib, shoulder, or upper back pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Fluid buildup in the lung lining (pleural effusion)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Night sweats
  • Weight loss

Additionally, it can take months for a diagnosis to be confirmed, making it even more difficult for the cancer to be detected early when it is more responsive to treatment.

Early detection of mesothelioma is vital. If you wait too long, you may be diagnosed with late-stage mesothelioma, which is harder to treat and has a less positive life expectancy.

If you have a history of asbestos exposure, you should get regular mesothelioma screenings to ensure you are diagnosed as soon as possible. Talk to your healthcare provider to learn more about mesothelioma screenings.

Mesothelioma Misdiagnosis Illnesses

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer, so doctors may not know that certain symptoms could indicate mesothelioma.

Common mesothelioma misdiagnoses vary depending on the type of mesothelioma. Learn about misdiagnoses in the table below.

Type of MesotheliomaCommon Misdiagnoses
Pleural mesothelioma (affecting the lungs)Bronchitis, cold or flu, lung disease, lung cancer, pneumonia, and more
Peritoneal mesothelioma (affecting the abdomen)Ovarian cancer, hernia, gallstones, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and Crohn’s disease
Pericardial mesothelioma (affecting the heart)Heart disease, heart failure, lung disease, and stage 4 lung cancer
Testicular mesothelioma (affecting the testicles)Epididymitis (swelling or inflammation), inguinal hernia

If you have been diagnosed with one of these conditions and your symptoms are continuing or worsening, you may need to get a second opinion. Contact our nurses now to get help finding a mesothelioma specialist near you.

Imaging Tests for Diagnosing Mesothelioma

Imaging tests allow doctors to see the inside of your body and locate any abnormalities.

Types of imaging tests for mesothelioma include:

  • X-rays are the most common imaging test for mesothelioma. They provide a two-dimensional view of the body. Chest X-rays will be used to detect mesothelioma in the chest (also called the thoracic cavity or pleural space).
  • CT scans create higher-resolution X-rays at cross-sections of a specific body part or the whole body.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans use a strong magnet and a computer to create detailed pictures. MRI scans are typically better than CT scans for imaging soft tissues.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scans use an injected radioactive tracer to locate mesothelioma cells in the body. They are often combined with CT scans.

These scans are completely painless, but some may require you to sit still for an hour or more.

Mesothelioma Blood Tests

Blood tests can’t confirm the presence of mesothelioma, but they can help rule out other health conditions and show doctors biomarkers (signs of disease) of mesothelioma or other illnesses.

MESOMARK is a mesothelioma blood test that looks for a specific protein within a patient’s blood. In high volumes, this protein, called serum-measured soluble mesothelin-related peptide, can indicate cancer cells are growing out of control and developing tumors.

Other typical blood panels can help doctors assess a patient’s overall health and expected health outcome (prognosis) with mesothelioma.

Biopsies to Confirm a Mesothelioma Diagnosis

A mesothelioma biopsy is the only way to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis. It involves doctors removing fluid or tissue samples from a potentially cancerous area and sending it to a lab for testing.

The type of biopsy a patient gets will vary depending on the type of mesothelioma they have and their general health.

Common mesothelioma biopsy types include:

  • Endoscopic biopsies involve inserting a long, flexible tube with a camera into the body through a small incision. The doctor uses the endoscope to spot and collect abnormal tissue. Specific types of endoscopic biopsies used for mesothelioma include a thoracoscopy, laparoscopy, and mediastinoscopy.
  • Fine-needle biopsies use a long, hollow needle linked to a syringe to gather up to 10,000 sample cells for lab analysis. A thoracentesis, paracentesis, and pericardiocentesis are all common fine-needle biopsies for mesothelioma.
  • Open surgical biopsies involve making an incision in the chest (thoracotomy) or in the abdomen (laparotomy). The surgeon will then remove a larger tumor sample or take out the whole tumor.

What to Expect During a Mesothelioma Biopsy

While each type of biopsy is different, you can expect some recovery time.

Open surgery biopsies are the most extensive, and they require anesthesia and prolonged recovery. Endoscopic and fine-needle biopsies are far less invasive and may only require local anesthesia and less recovery time.

You should be prepared for some bruising, pain, and swelling where the incisions or needles were inserted. Additionally, you might feel generally fatigued after your biopsy and should take some time to rest.

Get help understanding your mesothelioma diagnosis by talking with our on-staff nurses. With over 20 years of experience helping mesothelioma patients, they can answer your questions and point you to more resources.

Speak With a Mesothelioma Nurse
  • Find Top Doctors and Treatments
  • Connect You With Clinical Trials
  • Answer Medical Questions
Talk with Amy

Amy Fair
20+ Years Helping
Mesothelioma Patients

What to Do After a Mesothelioma Diagnosis

If you or a loved one have received a mesothelioma diagnosis, follow these steps to get the treatment and help you need.

1. Consider a Second Opinion

Before you do anything else, seek a second opinion from another medical provider. Tell them about your medical history and show them your initial diagnosis.

Remember, mesothelioma is rare and can often be misdiagnosed. A second opinion can help you be certain of what treatment will be the best for your case.

2. Understand the Stage and Prognosis of Your Diagnosis

When you are certain you have an accurate diagnosis, talk with your health care team about the details of your mesothelioma diagnosis. The stage you have been diagnosed at will help you understand if the cancer has metastasized (spread).

This will also help you understand the expected outcome of your mesothelioma diagnosis (prognosis). A mesothelioma prognosis is often poor with an average life expectancy of 12-21 months, but treatment advancements are improving survival times for many patients.

3. Get an Effective Treatment Plan

Once you have confirmed your mesothelioma diagnosis, begin talking through effective treatment options with your oncology team.

Common treatments for mesothelioma include:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Radiation therapy

Your mesothelioma treatment plan should establish the timeline for treatments and the costs and types of treatments you need.

If you are interested in clinical trials (studies of new mesothelioma treatment options), talk to your doctor.

4. Learn About Your Legal Options

Finally, learn about your legal options. You may be eligible to file a lawsuit against asbestos product manufacturers, who know of the dangers of asbestos but hid the risks from the public. These lawsuits often secure between $1 and $1.4 million for mesothelioma victims and their families.

This money can help you pay for treatment, travel costs, and other expenses. Find a trusted mesothelioma lawyer to get started.

Get Help After a Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis can be emotionally draining and financially devastating, especially when considering travel costs to treatment centers and other expenses.

Fortunately, the Lung Cancer Group can help. Our team of nurses has helped mesothelioma patients access treatments, specialists, and financial aid that have helped them live longer.

Call (877) 446-5767 to learn how we can help.

Mesothelioma Diagnosis FAQs

How difficult is it to diagnose mesothelioma?

Diagnosing mesothelioma is difficult for multiple reasons, including:

  • Symptoms may be mistaken for other less serious conditions, like bronchitis, pneumonia, IBS, and more. As a result, it’s easy for doctors to misdiagnose or diagnose mesothelioma late.
  • It can take 10 to 50 years before symptoms develop. Patients may not realize they were exposed to asbestos (the main cause of mesothelioma) decades ago, or they not notice symptoms until the cancer is much more advanced.

The early warning signs of mesothelioma may include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever
  • Fluid buildup in the lung lining (pleural effusion)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tiredness

If you have these symptoms and a history of asbestos exposure, contact your doctor immediately. They can conduct screening tests to see if you have mesothelioma or another health condition.

Mesothelioma biomarkers, or indicators of disease, may appear in blood tests. However, it is not possible to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis with blood tests. Only a biopsy can confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis.

Yes, a chest X-ray may be able to detect abnormal tissue or fluid buildup to help doctors pinpoint the location and spread of mesothelioma. If abnormalities are detected, doctors will then perform a biopsy to examine the tissue in a lab and confirm a diagnosis.

Lung Cancer Group was established by a team of caring advocates so those with lung cancer and other asbestos-related diseases can get the help they deserve. Our site provides the most accurate and up-to-date information about lung cancer, its link to asbestos, and financial compensation available to patients. Contact us to learn more and get assistance.

  1. American Cancer Society. (2015). Imaging (Radiology) Tests for Cancer. Retrieved December 14, 2023, from
  2. American Cancer Society. (2018). Risk Factors for Malignant Mesothelioma. Retrieved December 14, 2023, from
  3. American Cancer Society. (2018). Tests for Malignant Mesothelioma. Retrieved December 14, 2023, from
  4. American Society of Clinical Oncology. (2023). Mesothelioma: Statistics. Retrieved December 14, 2023, from
  5. Kopylev, L., Sullivan, P., Vinikoor, L., Bateson, T. (2011). Monte Carlo Analysis of Impact of Underascertainment of Mesothelioma Cases on Underestimation of Risk. The Open Epidemiology Journal. Retrieved December 14, 2023, from
  6. Penn Medicine: Abramson Cancer Center. (n.d.). Prognosis. Retrieved December 14, 2023, from
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