Pleural mesothelioma is a type of mesothelioma, which is a type of cancer. This is a disease that is typically fatal – but if you catch it early enough, your prognosis can be significantly improved.
How exactly do doctors detect pleural mesothelioma? And when should you pursue imaging?
A Primer on Mesothelioma
Let’s start by talking about the basics of mesothelioma. Among types of cancer, this one is fairly rare, since it affects the lining of your organs. Most people, living normal lives, won’t have to worry about the lining of their organs being damaged or inflamed.
But for people who have been exposed to a material called asbestos, this organ lining (known as the mesothelium) can be sharply penetrated by thousands of tiny, jagged fibers. These fibers dig into the lining of your organs, eventually forming scar tissue, causing fluid buildup, and spurring inflammation that can lead to the development of cancer.
Pleural Mesothelioma: Cancer of the Lungs
Pleural mesothelioma is a subtype of mesothelioma that represents close to 80 percent of all mesothelioma cases. This type of mesothelioma affects the lining of your lungs. It’s very easy to breathe in asbestos fibers when working with this material or living in proximity to it, so it’s no mystery why pleural mesothelioma is more common than, say, pericardial mesothelioma that affects the lining of the heart.
Early Signs of Pleural Mesothelioma
As with most types of cancer, the earlier you catch pleural mesothelioma, the better your chances of survival are going to be. Unfortunately, most of the early signs of pleural mesothelioma can easily be mistaken for other health conditions or as normal parts of everyday life. A bit of coughing, a bit of fatigue, or a low-grade fever register as ordinary to most people.
However, there are some early signs of pleural mesothelioma that you can’t afford to ignore.
. Fluid buildup. Buildup of fluid in the lungs, known as pleural effusions, are a classic sign of pleural mesothelioma, with 60 percent of diagnosed cases featuring this symptom. You may not be able to notice fluid buildup in your lungs visually, but imaging can easily detect this.
· Persistent coughing. We all cough from time to time and in response to illnesses like the common cold. But if your cough never seems to go away, or if it affects your daily life, it’s a sign that something more serious is happening.
· Pleural thickening. The affected area can sometimes develop scar tissue as a result of asbestos fibers penetrating the lining of your lungs. Around 88 percent of diagnosed cases feature this symptom. After the scar tissue develops, inflammation can occur, which can then trigger the development of cancerous cells.
Imaging Scans: Detecting Pleural Mesothelioma
There are two different types of imaging scans that doctors can use to detect mesothelioma.
First, there are X-rays. Medical X-rays rely on a form of electromagnetic radiation, utilizing high energy pulses that can pass through most materials. X-rays pass right through your body, then pass through an X-ray detector on the other side of your body, ultimately creating an image that represents “shadows” that are formed by the materials within your body.
Second, there are CT scans, or computerized tomography scans. Essentially, CT scans are more complicated, more robust images formed using a combination of X-ray technology and modern computer processing. In a CT scan, your doctor will create a series of different X-ray images, studying your body from a variety of different angles. Then, these images will be processed together to create a more comprehensive image that provides far more detailed information.
Depending on the nature of your case, your doctor may use one, the other, or both.
After studying the images produced by these scans, your doctor may be able to rule out the possibility of mesothelioma. If they can’t, or if they notice any signs of pleural thickening or fluid buildup, they’ll likely recommend a biopsy. In a biopsy, the doctor will take a section of tissue from your body and send it to a lab for analysis. The lab will be able to definitively tell whether you have pleural mesothelioma.
From there, if the cancer is caught early enough, you may qualify for a variety of different types of treatment, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgery, depending on individual factors and the extent of the cancerous development.
Mesothelioma is a painful, complex, and challenging disease that is most often fatal for the people diagnosed with it. But if you notice the signs and symptoms of pleural mesothelioma early enough, and your doctors successfully use imaging to detect that cancer, you may get treatment early enough to maximize your chances of surviving – or living beyond ordinary expectations.