There have been many questions raised about mesothelioma and how to distinguish a mesothelioma diagnosis from a lung cancer diagnosis, as the physical symptoms of both cancers can, on the surface, appear to be quite similar. If you have been extensively exposed to airborne asbestos or live with someone who works with asbestos materials, you may be at risk for mesothelioma, and a mesothelioma screening could be worthwhile to have if you are displaying any symptoms such as pain under the rib cage, trouble breathing, swelling or lumps in the abdomen, or unexplainable weight loss.

According to WebMD, there are several screenings available to test for mesothelioma. As with all appointments, a medical history of the patient is completed along with a physical exam. Chest x-rays are also taken to view the condition of the lungs, organs and bones in the chest area. Blood work is ordered for a complete blood count. This lab checks for white blood cell, red blood cell and platelet numbers as well as hemoglobin and proteins in the blood. There is also a sedimentation test performed on the drawn blood which checks for the rate at which red blood cells separate and settle to the bottom of a test tube. These are fairly non-invasive screenings, but there is more to the screening.

In many cases a biopsy is performed where they remove tissue from the pleura, peritoneum (organ linings), lungs or abdomen to view under a microscope. There are several different methods of performing a biopsy. Tissue may be retrieved using the most appropriate of these methods. There is fine needle aspiration biopsy, which uses a long thin needle and imaging machinery to allow the physician to draw fluid from abnormal areas on the lungs. With thoracoscopy, a thin tube-like apparatus is inserted, which contains a light and lens for viewing the interior of the chest. Peritoneoscopy uses a similar instrument as thoracoscopy, but the peritoneoscopy is used for viewing the abdomen. Laparotomy and thoracotomy involve cutting the wall of the abdomen and chest (respectively) and checking for disease. With a bronchoscopy, a thin tube-like apparatus with a light and lens is inserted through the nose or mouth, down the trachea and into the lungs. This tool can also be used to remove tissue samples.

Once a tissue sample is recovered it is sent for a cytologic exam from a pathologist who will check for abnormalities. Ultimately, it is the biopsy and cytologic exam that will give the final determination if mesothelioma cancer is found. Knowing the steps and terminology of an asbestos cancer screening can take a lot of the fear out of your doctor visit. Take time to do your own research in mesothelioma diagnosis, screening and treatments.