Mesothelioma Misdiagnosis

Mesothelioma is an aggressive, very rare cancer linked to asbestos exposure. Because mesothelioma is rare, patients may be misdiagnosed with some other form of cancer.
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Doctors who do not specialize in mesothelioma diagnosis may not be able to recognize mesothelioma symptoms for what they are. In fact, the symptoms of mesothelioma can occur from many other medical conditions.

Getting an accurate mesothelioma diagnosis as soon as possible is absolutely critical. The sooner the mesothelioma is identified, the sooner you can receive appropriate treatment.

Patients diagnosed with mesothelioma in its early stages may live several years. Those diagnosed with mesothelioma in its advanced stages may only live a year or less.

Earlier Mesothelioma Diagnosis May Mean a Better Prognosis

According to the American Cancer Society, estimated survival rates for malignant pleural mesothelioma depend on many factors, including how widespread the mesothelioma is at time of diagnosis. The lower the stage, the better the projected prognosis. The American Cancer Society, while acknowledging that these survival rates are only estimates and can’t predict what will happen to any individual person, provides the following estimated survival rates:(1)

  • For patients diagnosed with stage IA pleural malignant mesothelioma, the two-year survival rate is nearly 50%, or one out of two. The five-year survival rate is only about 16%.
  • For patients diagnosed with stage IV advanced malignant pleural mesothelioma, the two-year survival rate is roughly 17%. The five-year survival rate for patients diagnosed with stage IV cancers is less than 1%.

In general, mesothelioma has a poor prognosis. The median survival rate for people diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma is only about 12 to 14 months.(2) An accurate diagnosis of pleural malignant mesothelioma is important, so you may discuss appropriate treatment options. The outlook may be much more positive for those diagnosed in the earliest stages of mesothelioma.

Seeing a Mesothelioma Specialist Is Important

Doctors who simply ask about your symptoms are not going to be able to make an accurate diagnosis of mesothelioma. Doctors who do not specialize in mesothelioma may not recognize the possibility that the symptoms may indicate mesothelioma.(3)

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To avoid a mesothelioma misdiagnosis, patients should seek help from a specialist. A knowledgeable and experienced specialist does not rely on your symptoms alone in making a diagnosis of mesothelioma.(4)

A doctor should perform a complete physical exam, ask questions about your medical and asbestos exposure history, and rely on the appropriate diagnostic tests. Getting a correct diagnosis of mesothelioma as soon as possible is important.

x-ray of lungs

Mesothelioma Symptoms Similar to Other Conditions

Symptoms of mesothelioma may include:(5)

  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Hoarseness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive sweating
  • Pain in the chest, lower back, or abdomen
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Nausea, vomiting, and constipation

As you read the list, you can see how many of the symptoms may occur from other illnesses or diseases. For example, you might have a similar set of symptoms if you have the flu.

Other possible medical conditions that mesothelioma might be mistaken for include:

  • Heart attack or other heart problems(6) (7)
  • Asthma(8)
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, such as bronchitis or emphysema(9)
  • Food poisoning(10)
  • Lung cancer(11)
  • Anxiety or panic(12)

Even something as common as stress can produce these types of symptoms.(13)

Rare Disease Mesothelioma Misdiagnosed as Other Illnesses

Doctors have misdiagnosed mesothelioma as other medical conditions. Sometimes the diagnosed medical condition is far less serious than mesothelioma.(14)

One example is a woman who was diagnosed as having a type of benign local tumor. This misdiagnosis occurred even though the woman had a surgical biopsy taken. By the time she was diagnosed correctly seven months later, her symptoms had become much worse.(15)

Mesothelioma has also been misdiagnosed as another type of cancer affecting the lungs, adenocarcinoma.(16) Although these two cancers are similar in some ways, they require different treatment protocols.(17)

Why Does Mesothelioma Misdiagnosis Happen?

Mesothelioma can be misdiagnosed because it can resemble other forms of cancer. For example, pleural mesothelioma forms in the lining of the lungs, but other types of cancer can develop close by or spread from other parts of the body. Doctors need to identify specific characteristics of cancer cells to determine if a patient has mesothelioma.(18)

Also, if doctors are not aware that a patient was exposed to asbestos, they may not suspect mesothelioma. This form of cancer is always linked to asbestos exposure of some type.(19)

Making a Mesothelioma Diagnosis

As a rare disease, mesothelioma is not something many doctors are familiar with or trained to diagnose. An experienced, knowledgeable specialist does not rely on a hunch. Mesothelioma is diagnosed based on an examination of tissue obtained from a biopsy of the affected areas.

Biopsy samples can be viewed under a microscope. Different types of biopsies are possible.(20)

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In needle biopsies involving the chest cavity, a doctor inserts a long, hollow needle through the skin between the ribs and into the pleura. This lets the doctor get a sample of the pleural tissue and fluid surrounding the lungs. Sometimes a doctor needs to collect a sample from the lymph nodes.

Another procedure used to diagnose mesothelioma is called an endoscopic biopsy. In this procedure, the doctor inserts an endoscope — a thin, tube-like instrument with a tiny light and lens on the end. This instrument allows the doctor to look at the insides of a person.

Depending on where the doctor is looking, the procedure is called different names:

  • Thoracoscopy: lungs and areas inside the chest cavity
  • Laparoscopy: abdomen
  • Mediastinoscopy: area between the lungs

A specially trained doctor may also perform an endobronchial ultrasound needle biopsy. For this procedure, the doctor passes a bronchoscope down the throat and into the windpipe.

The bronchoscope is another long, thin, flexible tube. An ultrasound device is positioned at its tip.

The doctor can then see nearby lymph nodes and can also take a biopsy sample.

doctors analyzing lung x-rays on computers

Diagnosing Rare Cancer May Require Thoracotomy

An even more invasive procedure called a thoracotomy is sometimes necessary to diagnose mesothelioma since it is such a rare cancer.

For this procedure, the surgeon has to make an incision in the chest to obtain a sample of pleural cells.

After samples are collected, trained medical professionals evaluate the samples using a variety of laboratory tests. If the diagnosis is mesothelioma, a specialist examines the cells even more carefully to determine the type:

  • Epithelioid
  • Sarcomatoid
  • Mixed/biphasic

If the doctors make a mesothelioma diagnosis, they may also perform a variety of pulmonary function tests. These can help determine how well a patient’s lungs are functioning.

After doctors have diagnosed mesothelioma in a patient, they carefully consider all the information collected. The doctors then recommend a treatment plan.

In cases of mesothelioma, a carefully designed treatment protocol may have a significant impact on the patient’s overall prognosis and quality of life. A second opinion can be helpful in confirming a mesothelioma diagnosis.

Weitz & Luxenberg Founded to Help Victims of Mesothelioma

For more than 30 years, Weitz & Luxenberg has dedicated itself to helping victims of mesothelioma and their families. This disease may be rare, but it is devastating.

Choosing the right medical specialists to diagnose and treat your mesothelioma is essential. Selecting the right law firm to represent you is equally important. You need experienced attorneys to get you the compensation your family deserves.

Weitz & Luxenberg was founded to help people who had developed mesothelioma and their families. For decades, we have worked to help our clients get the compensation and resolution they deserve.

We feel strongly that the companies that knowingly exposed people to asbestos, a known carcinogen, should be held responsible. We have made it our mission to do everything legally possible to bring about justice for our clients.

As a national law firm, we have secured billions of dollars in verdicts and settlements on behalf of our clients. While we cannot guarantee any results, we guarantee that we strive for the best possible outcome on your behalf.

An initial consultation is free, and we can provide you with guidance regarding your legal options. Please do not hesitate to contact us by calling (877) 516-9192 or completing the form on this page. One of our representatives will be in touch with you shortly.

  1. American Cancer Society. (2017, December 20). Survival Statistics for Mesothelioma. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignant-mesothelioma/detection-diagnosis-staging/survival-statistics.html
  2. National Organization for Rare Disorders. (2017). Mesothelioma. Retrieved from https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/mesothelioma/
  3. American Cancer Society. (2016, February 17). Signs and symptoms of mesothelioma. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignantmesothelioma/detailedguide/malignant-mesothelioma-signs-symptoms
  4. WebMD. (2016, May 28). Mesothelioma: Tests, Diagnosis, and Treatments. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/lung/mesothelioma-tests-diagnosis-and-treatments#1
  5. American Cancer Society. (2016, February 17). Signs and Symptoms of Mesothelioma. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignant-mesothelioma/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-symptoms.html
  6. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2017, June 3). Heart attack symptoms: Know what’s a medical emergency. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-attack/in-depth/heart-attack-symptoms/art-20047744
  7. American Heart Association. (2017, May). Warning Signs of Heart Failure. Retrieved from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartFailure/WarningSignsforHeartFailure/Warning-Signs-for-Heart-Failure_UCM_002045_Article.jsp#.Wq2drmbMzm0
  8. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018, March 9). Asthma. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/asthma/symptoms-causes/syc-20369653
  9. American Lung Association. (2018). Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Retrieved from http://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/copd/
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, February 6). Symptoms and Sources of Food Poisoning. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/symptoms.html
  11. WebMD. (2018). Lung Cancer Symptoms: What You Should Know. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/lung-cancer/understanding-lung-cancer-symptoms
  12. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2016). Symptoms. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/panic-disorder-agoraphobia/symptoms#
  13. WebMD. (2018). Stress Symptoms. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/stress-symptoms-effects_of-stress-on-the-body#1
  14. Kim, K.C. & H.P. Vo. (2016, June). Localized malignant pleural sarcomatoid mesothelioma misdiagnosed as benign localized fibrous tumor. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27293862
  15. Ibid.
  16. Delgermaa, V., et al. (2011, June 13). Global mesothelioma deaths reported to the World Health Organization between 1994 and 2008. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/89/10/11-086678/en/
  17. Christensen, B.C., et al. (2009, July 28). Differentiation of lung adenocarcinoma, pleural mesothelioma, and non-malignant pulmonary tissues using DNA methylation profiles. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2755616/
  18. Kerger, B.D., et al. (2014, May 30). Tumors that mimic asbestos-related mesothelioma: time to consider a genetics-based tumor registry? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4038924/
  19. Ibid.
  20. American Cancer Society. (2018). How Is Malignant Mesothelioma Diagnosed? Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignant-mesothelioma/detection-diagnosis-staging/how-diagnosed

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