Imaging Tests

Imaging tests are able to create pictures of what’s inside of a person’s body. These pictures can confirm to doctors that abnormalities, like mesothelioma, are present in their patient. Imaging tests can also help doctors see where the cancer is and how far it has spread. Each imaging test is used for different diagnostic purposes and create images using different technology.

  • X-Ray

    X-rays are often done first when doctors suspect mesothelioma. They can show tumors and fluid build up.

  • CT Scan

    CT (computed tomography) scans use x-ray technology and rotate around the patient to take more detailed pictures from different angles.

  • PET Scan

    PET (positron emission tomography) scans highlight where the cancer is and help doctors identify where the cancer has spread in a patient’s body.

  • MRI Scan

    MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) use radio waves and magnets to create detailed images of soft tissues.


Biopsies are a critical step in diagnosis. Through a biopsy, doctors can identify specific details about a patient’s condition including the cell type. Cell type has a significant impact on a patient’s prognosis and treatment options.

Mesothelioma Cell Types


The most common cell type for mesothelioma patients is epithelioid. Generally, epithelioid mesothelioma is the most treatable with the best prognosis.


A much less common cell type is sarcomatoid. Sarcomatoid cells spread quickly, making them more difficult to treat than epithelioid cells.


Patients can have a combination of epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells, this is called biphasic. Prognosis depends on the ratio of epithelioid cells to sarcomatoid cells.

Types of Biopsies

Biopsies involve taking fluid and tissue samples from the patient to examine more closely under a microscope. There are several different ways that doctors can obtain these samples.

  • Surgical

    Some biopsies involve surgical procedures. For these, an incision is made and the surgeon removes pieces of tumor for testing. In the chest this is called a thoracotomy and in the abdomen this is called a laparotomy.

  • Camera Assisted

    A less invasive option for biopsy is a camera assisted surgical biopsy. This involves a few small incisions and a thin tube with a camera on the end. In the abdomen this is called a laparoscopy. In the chest this is a thoracoscopy (VATS) or a mediastinoscopy, depending on the location in the chest.

  • Needle Biopsies

    In many cases, doctors can remove tissue or fluid samples using a hollow needle. Needle biopsies are a minor, nonsurgical procedure. This less invasive biopsy is not as reliable as some other biopsy types because the needle doesn’t always remove a large enough sample to test.

  • Pathology Reports

    Pathology is the study of diseases. When doctors study biopsy samples under a microscope it’s called pathology. More specifically, histopathology is the study of the tissue samples and cytopathology, often called cytology, is the study of fluid samples.

Blood Tests

Sometimes blood tests can be useful in diagnosing a patient. Blood tests can identify different biomarkers in the blood that are higher in patients with certain diseases. The Cancer Antigen 125 (CA125) test can help doctors determine if their patient has cancer by testing for a biomarker that is higher in cancer patients than cancer-free people. There is also a blood test called Mesomark that can be used to identify mesothelioma. These tests are not commonly used because they can’t diagnose a patient on their own.

Getting a Second Opinion

Many doctors have never diagnosed a mesothelioma patient before because of how rare it is. Mesothelioma patients are encouraged to seek a second opinion from an experienced specialist to avoid being misdiagnosed and improve their prognosis. A specialist may be able to give a more accurate diagnosis or confirm a previous diagnosis. Patients may find they have more or different treatment options with a proper diagnosis.

Understanding Your Prognosis

When patients are diagnosed, their doctor will usually give them a prognosis. A prognosis is how the doctor estimates a disease will develop. Prognosis includes how long the doctor thinks the patient will live. The prognosis is often the most difficult part of diagnosis for patients to deal with.

  • Diagnosis: Identifies which disease you have and details about your condition, like cell type.
  • Prognosis: A prediction of how a disease will develop and the outcome, such as survival time.

Fortunately, the prognosis is just an educated guess. Many mesothelioma patients are able to far outlive their prognosis. Consult Mesothelioma Guide to learn more about your mesothelioma prognosis and ways to improve it.

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