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Mesothelioma is a malignant cancer that has been linked to occupational asbestos exposure. Oncologists working in the field of mesothelioma require highly specialized skills since the incidence of mesothelioma in the general population is very low.
Primary Health Care Providers and Mesothelioma
The first physician the mesothelioma patient is likely to encounter will be his or her own health care provider. Mesothelioma typically has a prolonged latency period of between 20 and 50 years. Additionally, mesothelioma typically presents symptoms that are extremely similar to those of several other diseases. An accurate history documenting asbestos exposure is a vitally important part of diagnosis.
After your physician takes your medical history, a thorough physical exam will be performed. The doctor will be checking for signs of pleural effusion which could be indicative of pleural mesothelioma, or abdominal edema which could be indicative of peritoneal mesothelioma. Your primary care provider may also order basic imaging studies such as x-rays to confirm his or her findings on physical exam.
If the results of the physical exam in conjunction with a medical history that is positive for asbestos exposure make a mesothelioma diagnosis possible, your primary care physician will then refer you to an oncologist. If pleural mesothelioma is suspected, your primary care physician may refer you to a pulmonologist.
Oncologists and Mesothelioma
Oncologists are physicians who are specially trained to work with cancer patients, while pulmonologists specialize in lung diseases.
The first thing your specialist is likely to do is to order more sophisticated imaging studies including an MRI, a CAT scan and a PET scan. The most definitive way of making a mesothelioma diagnosis, however, is with a biopsy which involves taking a small tissue or fluid sample from the patient and examining it for mesothelioma markers. Fluid biopsies provide accurate diagnoses for 80 percent of all mesothelioma patients while thoracoscopic biopsies, in which the sample is obtained through the insertion of an endoscope into the lungs, is accurate in 98 percent of all patients suffering from pleural mesothelioma.
Once a mesothelioma diagnosis has been confirmed, the patient will be referred to a physician who specializes in the treatment of mesothelioma patients. During the course of treatment, a patient is likely to encounter several different types of specialists:
- Thoracic oncologists: Patients with pleural mesothelioma are likely to be referred to thoracic oncologists who specialize in treatment of malignancies associated with the lungs, esophagus and chest. These physicians often work closely with thoracic surgeons who may be called upon to surgically resection affected lungs and supporting structures.
- Radiation Oncologists: Radiation oncologists are specialists in using external beam radiation to shrink malignant tumors. Radiation oncologists participate in the treatment of patients with both pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma.
- Medical Oncologists: Medical oncologists manage and treat mesothelioma patients with medications including chemotherapeutic agents, hormones and analgesics.
This information is presented for reference purposes only. If you or a loved one has been exposed to asbestos, it is imperative to seek medical attention immediately.