Misdiagnosis of Mesothelioma

Misdiagnosis of mesothelioma is common because the symptoms often mimic other diseases.

Key Points

  • 1

    Mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed, largely due to nonspecific symptoms.

  • 2

    A wrong diagnosis can occur at any stage of the diagnostic process.

  • 3

    A misdiagnosis can ultimately delay treatment and impact overall survival.

  • 4

    A mesothelioma specialist is the best person to ensure an accurate diagnosis.

Because mesothelioma is an extremely rare disease and difficult to recognize, it is often misdiagnosed. The misdiagnosis of mesothelioma is also related to its symptoms, which are common in a number of other, less serious conditions. Also, detection methods lag behind those of other illnesses in terms of accuracy.

A misdiagnosis of mesothelioma may reduce a patient’s chance of survival by delaying appropriate and effective treatment. Often, by the time symptoms have been accurately identified, mesothelioma may have already spread throughout the body, making it more difficult to treat.

Being aware of early warning signs and risk factors along with seeking out additional expert opinions increases the effectiveness of treatment and improves prognosis.

Factors That Contribute to Misdiagnosis

Researchers are working to improve early detection methods of mesothelioma, as imaging tests fall short. Currently, a tissue biopsy is the only proven way to diagnose mesothelioma.

Common Symptoms and Illnesses

Mesothelioma is often mistaken for less serious conditions that affect the lungs, heart, or abdomen. This is because early symptoms of mesothelioma mirror the symptoms of other, more common diseases. These symptoms include difficulty breathing, pain in the chest or abdomen, and shortness of breath.

Common Misdiagnoses by Type
Pleural mesothelioma
  • Bronchial infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Asthma
  • Emphysema
  • Adenocarcinoma and other lung cancers
  • COPD
Peritoneal mesothelioma
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Hernia
  • IBS
Pericardial mesothelioma
  • Heart failure
  • Coronary artery disease

Differentiating Cell Types

When mesothelioma is misdiagnosed as another cancer, this is because the types of mesothelioma cells vary. Tumors are classified by the appearance and type of cancerous cells responsible for tumor growth. When examining a tumor sample for mesothelioma, a histopathologist will look for three types of cells: epithelial cells, sarcomatoid cells, and biphasic cells.

When examining these cells, it is difficult to differentiate adenocarcinoma from pleural mesothelioma, and ovarian cancer from peritoneal mesothelioma.

Misreading Stages

As part of a diagnosis, cancer is classified into a specific stage. Since there isn’t a universal way of formally staging all types of mesothelioma, a doctor can also misinterpret which stage the cancer is in. For example, some patients may be diagnosed as a late stage, when in reality, the mesothelioma is not that advanced. The opposite can also happen. Knowing the accurate stage is important for determining the prognosis and treatment plan.

This happens for a number of reasons. While doctors have a general idea about which symptoms present themselves during each stage, this can vary from patient to patient. Also, since there isn’t a universal mesothelioma staging system, certain systems may classify stages based on different symptoms.

Misdiagnosis and Treatment

A definitive diagnosis is crucial to getting an appropriate, effective treatment plan. Because mesothelioma is so rare, it’s highly recommended to seek out a mesothelioma specialist for a second opinion if you have the signs and symptoms of mesothelioma.

Find a mesothelioma specialist in your area.

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