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Diagnosing mesothelioma is a long process

Even though ships aren't being built at the Avondale Shipyard any longer, its history and legacy remain. For some who worked there, that legacy could involve your health. One of the materials used at the shipyard, asbestos, could have left its mark on your body. You might have willingly given years to the shipyard, but you never intended to give it your life.

Now that you experience troubling physical symptoms that you believe may result in a diagnosis of mesothelioma, you could wonder what you will go through to find out whether you suffer from this often-terminal illness. If you suspect that you could suffer from this disease, you should seek medical attention right away.

What to expect at the doctor's office

Before any testing begins, your doctor needs full medical and family histories. However, your doctor also needs to know your work history, especially the fact that you worked around asbestos for any length of time since no safe level of asbestos exists.

During a physical exam, your doctor will look for the following signs:

  • Pleural effusion: Fluid buildup around your chest and lungs could indicate pleural mesothelioma.
  • Ascites: Fluid buildup in your abdomen could indicate peritoneal mesothelioma.
  • Pericardial effusion: Fluid buildup in the sac that encases your heart could indicate pericardial mesothelioma.

In rare cases, something that looks like a hernia could develop in your groin area. Further testing would need to be done to confirm any suspicions your doctor now has regarding a potential diagnosis of mesothelioma.

Imaging tests

To examine potentially cancerous areas and determine how far any cancer has spread, your doctor will order one or more of the following imaging tests:

  • Chest x-ray: If your symptoms include a persistent cough and trouble breathing, this test usually comes first.
  • Computed tomography scan: As a more detailed x-ray, a CT scan helps pinpoint the exact location of potentially malignant growths. It also shows the extent of the cancer, such as whether it has spread to other organs.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging scan: An MRI is similar to a CT scan, except it uses strong magnets and radio waves instead of x-rays.
  • Positron emission tomography scan: A PET scan uses a radioactive sugar solution (related to glucose), which cancer cells absorb, to identify their location. It's not as detailed as a CT scan, but still provides useful information.

In addition, your doctor could order an echocardiogram if he or she suspects that fluid is around your heart.

Blood tests

Certain substances that would show up in blood tests tend to be higher in a person with mesothelioma. However, blood tests alone cannot confirm mesothelioma, so that limits their usefulness.

Tissue and fluid samples

Removing and testing small samples of tissue and fluid (biopsies) can provide conclusive evidence of mesothelioma when properly tested in a pathology lab. Doctors use needle, endoscopic and open surgical biopsies most often. After diagnosis, a pulmonary function test indicates how well your lungs work. Once you receive a diagnosis, possible treatments are discussed.

Since nearly all cases of mesothelioma arise from exposure to asbestos, you may want to explore your legal rights. The costs associated with treatment, along with other expenses you could incur, may easily run into the tens of thousands of dollars. In addition, the fatality rate of mesothelioma may prompt you to consider taking care of your family after you pass away. In either case, you likely deserve compensation. A compassionate and knowledgeable Louisiana attorney could help you in this endeavor.

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