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Mesothelioma Imaging Scans

Doctors use mesothelioma imaging scans during the diagnosis process to look for fluid buildup and potential masses in the chest or abdomen. Common mesothelioma imaging tests include X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, and PET scans. Learn more about mesothelioma imaging scans and how our team can connect you to doctors in your area for an accurate diagnosis.

Fact-Checked and Updated by: Jenna Tozzi, RN

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How Imaging Scans Can Help Diagnose Mesothelioma

Imaging scans are a non-invasive way to see the internal structures of the body. They help medical providers diagnose a wide range of conditions, including mesothelioma cancer.

Doctor examining an X-ray

Mesothelioma doctors use different scans depending on what symptoms a patient is experiencing. For example, someone with a chronic cough and shortness of breath will usually receive a chest X-ray.

Meanwhile, someone with stomach pain may receive a computed tomography (CT) scan, which allows doctors to view the abdomen and the entire body if needed.

Although imaging scans can reveal potentially cancerous tumors or masses, they can’t be used alone to diagnose mesothelioma.

The only way to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis is to order a biopsy, which involves taking a sample of fluid or tissue from a suspected tumor and examining it in a lab to confirm the presence of cancer cells.

“Biopsies are the only testing method that can definitively diagnose mesothelioma. We use imaging scans to identify tumors and the spread of cancer.”
– Fox Chase Cancer Center

Key Facts on Mesothelioma Imaging Scans

  • Types of tests: Thoracic (chest) X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) scans, and positron emission tomography (PET) scans
  • How they’re used: To diagnose and stage mesothelioma; CT and PET scans can also be used to monitor your response to treatment
  • Where to get them: Mesothelioma cancer centers across the country

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Types of Mesothelioma Imaging Scans

There are several types of mesothelioma imaging scans used by specialists at top cancer centers.

Below is a breakdown of how they work and what to expect during each procedure.

X-Rays

X-rays use small amounts of radiation to create a flat, two-dimensional (2-D) image of the inside of your body, such as your lungs and mediastinum (area between your lungs).

You will receive a mesothelioma chest X-ray if you have symptoms such as pleural effusion, shortness of breath, and a chronic cough. Medical providers can use chest X-rays to locate signs of pleural mesothelioma (cancer of the lung lining) or lung cancer.

If you have pleural mesothelioma, your mesothelioma X-ray images may reveal that your lung shape is distorted. Pleural mesothelioma tumors can look like wispy white streaks on an X-ray.

Doctors may also use X-rays to identify peritoneal mesothelioma tumors that have spread from the abdominal lining (peritoneum) to the chest.

What to Expect During an X-Ray

  1. You will be asked to remove any jewelry or clothing that may interfere with the procedure and given a gown to wear.
  2. The parts of your body that aren’t imaged will be covered with a lead apron to shield them from the X-ray machine.
  3. You will lay, sit, or stand while receiving the X-ray. You must be very still or the image will be blurry.
  4. The X-ray may have to be taken from different angles, including from the side and from the front.
  5. Your mesothelioma specialist will let you know if you need to do anything ahead of time to prepare for your X-ray.

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CT Scans

CT scans are the most important imaging scan for a mesothelioma diagnosis. This type of scan uses computer processing to create cross-sectional images of bones, soft tissues, and blood vessels inside your body.

CT scans are much more detailed than standard X-rays, letting doctors spot abnormal swelling, masses, and small tumors. These scans may also show pleural effusion or pleural thickening, common signs of pleural mesothelioma.

Doctors can also use CT scans to identify different mesothelioma cell types (epithelioid, sarcomatoid, or biphasic), which can help them further refine your diagnosis and develop a treatment plan.

What to Expect During a CT Scan

  1. You will change out of your clothes and wear a hospital gown that doesn’t interfere with the scan.
  2. You may be given a contrast dye orally or intravenously (by IV injection) to help doctors see specific parts of your body more clearly.
  3. You will lie on your back and remain still while the CT scan happens.

PET Scans

During a PET scan, a small amount of radioactive sugar is injected into the bloodstream.

A specialized camera then captures images of the body, highlighting areas with increased radioactivity. Due to their rapid growth, cancer cells tend to absorb this sugar at a higher rate compared to normal cells.

Cancer cells appear as bright spots on PET scans. The images can also help doctors spot thickening of tissues, which may indicate cancer.

PET scans may be combined with CT scans to locate tumors throughout your body, even very small ones, as well as lymph nodes containing cancerous cells.

What to Expect During a PET Scan

  1. You will switch into a hospital gown and receive an intravenous infusion of a mild radioactive sugar known as a radiotracer.
  2. You will wait an hour for the tumor cells to absorb the tracer.
  3. You will lie flat on your back and be moved into the PET scanner.
  4. You will remain as still as possible during the scan. The PET technician will give you instructions through a speaker, such as telling you to hold your breath when your chest is being scanned.

You may need to stop eating for 5 to 6 hours before a PET scan. You can talk to your doctor if you have diabetes or another condition that could interfere with your ability to fast before your scan.

MRIs

An MRI uses computer-generated radio waves and a magnetic field to create detailed images of the tissues and organs in your body.

“MRI scans can sometimes help show the exact location and extent of a tumor since they provide very detailed images of soft tissues.

For mesothelioma, they may be useful in looking at the diaphragm (the thin band of muscle below the lungs that helps us breathe), a possible site of cancer spread.”
– American Cancer Society

MRIs can be used to diagnose all types of mesothelioma, including pericardial mesothelioma (cancer of the heart lining) and testicular mesothelioma (cancer of the testicular lining).

What to Expect During an MRI

  1. You will wear a hospital gown and be asked to remove any piercings or jewelry.
  2. You should tell the MRI technician about any possible metal in your body that could be impacted by the MRI’s magnetic field. If you’re claustrophobic, you can request medication to help you feel sleepy and less anxious.
  3. You will wear a headset for hearing protection since the MRI can be loud. The MRI technician will also use the headset to talk to you during the scan.
  4. During the scan, you may experience a metallic taste, nausea, and dizziness due to the effects of the magnetic field. You can press a button inside the machine at any time to alert the technician if this happens.
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Ultrasounds

Ultrasounds, also known as sonograms, use high-frequency sound waves to generate pictures of structures inside the body.

Doctors may use ultrasounds to diagnose peritoneal mesothelioma and testicular mesothelioma.

  • For peritoneal mesothelioma, ultrasounds can reveal abnormal, possibly cancerous growths.
  • For testicular mesothelioma, ultrasounds can reveal thickening of the tunica vaginalis (the lining surrounding the testicles) as well as masses, hydrocele, or lumps.

Tumors may look like dark or bright spots on ultrasounds. Ultrasounds also reveal the speed and direction of blood flow, which doctors can use to identify tumors.

What to Expect During an Ultrasound

  1. You will be asked to change into a hospital gown.
  2. You will then be taken to the ultrasound bay or room.
  3. You will lie on a couch next to the ultrasound machine.
  4. The sonographer (person performing the ultrasound) will put cold gel on the area being scanned to help get clearest pictures possible. They will then slide a handheld device over the area to take the images.

Mesothelioma Imaging Scans and Second Opinions

While imaging scans are an important part of a mesothelioma diagnosis, doctors need experience to correctly diagnose and determine the stage of mesothelioma.

Images of mesothelioma can look like lung cancer, so it’s important to see a specialist to avoid a misdiagnosis.

Not many general doctors have experience specifically diagnosing and treating mesothelioma, so you should get a second opinion if you think you may have this cancer.

“Pathologists at other facilities can examine your imaging scans and determine whether the initial diagnosis is correct.”

- Quote from Amy Fair, RN, Mesothelioma Hope Patient Advocate

Our team has a network of over 100 doctors who can offer a second opinion on your radiology scans.

Use our Free Doctor Match to get connected to specialists near you.

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What Happens After Getting Mesothelioma Imaging Scans?

After you get imaging tests for mesothelioma, you may have to wait between a few hours or a week or more, depending on which scans you received.

If the results indicate that you may have mesothelioma or some other type of cancer, the doctor will order a biopsy to confirm your diagnosis. They may also use mesothelioma blood tests to look for certain markers linked to asbestos exposure, which is the only known cause of this cancer.

If the biopsy confirms you have mesothelioma, your doctor will work with other specialists to develop a treatment plan tailored to your cancer’s location, stage, and cell type.

We Can Help You With a Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Imaging scans are crucial tools in diagnosing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. To make sure you get the right scans and that the results are interpreted correctly, you need to work with an experienced mesothelioma doctor.

Our Patient Advocates have working relationships with specialists who can:

  • Perform a detailed physical exam
  • Order imaging scans based on your symptoms
  • Analyze the results of your scans
  • Develop a personalized treatment plan

Contact us today at (866) 608-8933 or get our Free Mesothelioma Guide to learn how we can help you or a loved one.

Mesothelioma Imaging FAQs

Would mesothelioma show up on a CT scan?

Yes, mesothelioma can often be detected on computed tomography (CT) scans. CT scans are commonly used to diagnose and monitor mesothelioma as they can provide detailed images of the chest or abdomen, where this cancer most often develops.

However, while CT scans can reveal tumors and abnormalities, a definitive diagnosis requires a biopsy.

A biopsy is where a sample of tissue is taken for examination under a microscope to determine whether it contains cancer cells.

What is the best imaging for mesothelioma?

There isn’t a single “best” imaging test for mesothelioma. Doctors use a combination of tests to provide a comprehensive evaluation.

Mesothelioma imaging scans include:

  • CT scans
  • MRIs
  • PET scans
  • Ultrasounds
  • X-rays

A mesothelioma doctor can determine which test(s) to run based on your symptoms and medical history.

Are mesothelioma imaging tests covered by insurance?

Most insurance plans cover mesothelioma imaging scans. However, it depends on your coverage and whether you need to meet a deductible before your insurance will cover the costs.

If you have concerns about the cost of mesothelioma imaging scans or out-of-pocket expenses, we can help you explore options for financial assistance. Contact us today to learn more.

Can you see mesothelioma on an X-ray?

Yes, doctors may be able to see signs of mesothelioma on an X-ray.

X-rays are one of the first mesothelioma imaging scans used to evaluate symptoms of chest pain and difficulty breathing.

However, X-rays may not always provide enough detail to definitively diagnose mesothelioma, especially in its early stages.

If abnormalities are detected on an X-ray, your doctor may schedule a CT scan or MRI for a more detailed evaluation.

How long does it take to get results from a mesothelioma imaging scan?

The time it takes to receive results from a mesothelioma imaging scan can vary depending on several factors, including the specific type of test performed and whether the scans need to be sent to a third party for evaluation.

Initial results of X-rays and CT scans may be available relatively quickly, often within a few hours to a couple of days.

That said, these initial results may require further examination by a radiologist or another specialist to make sure they’re accurate.

It may take longer to receive results for more complex imaging tests like MRIs and PET scans, possibly several days to a week or more.

Jenna TozziWritten by:

Director of Patient Advocacy

Jenna Tozzi, RN, is the Director of Patient Advocacy at Mesothelioma Hope. With more than 15 years of experience as an adult and pediatric oncology nurse navigator, Jenna provides exceptional guidance and support to mesothelioma patients and their loved ones. Jenna has been featured in Oncology Nursing News and is a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators & the American Nurses Association.

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References
  1. American Cancer Society. (2018, November 16). Tests for Malignant Mesothelioma. Retrieved March 28, 2024 from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/types/malignant-mesothelioma/detection-diagnosis-staging/how-diagnosed.html
  2. Cancer Research UK. (2021, June 4). Ultrasound for peritoneal mesothelioma. Retrieved March 28, 2024, from https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/mesothelioma/getting-diagnosed/tests-diagnose/ultrasound
  3. Fox Chase Cancer Center (n.d.). Diagnosing Mesothelioma. Retrieved March 28, 2024, from https://www.foxchase.org/clinical-care/conditions/mesothelioma/diagnosis
  4. Mayo Clinic. (2022, January 6). CT scan. Retrieved March 28, 2024, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/ct-scan/about/pac-20393675
  5. Mayo Clinic. (2022, January 6). Mesothelioma. Retrieved March 28, 2024, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mesothelioma/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20375028
  6. Mayo Clinic. (2023, September 9). MRI. Retrieved March 28, 2024, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/mri/about/pac-20384768
  7. Stanford Health Care. (n.d.). How Are X-Rays Performed? Retrieved March 28, 2024, from https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-tests/x/xray/procedures.html
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