What Is a Mesothelioma Misdiagnosis?
A mesothelioma misdiagnosis occurs when doctors mistakenly attribute symptoms of mesothelioma to another condition.
Pleural mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed as other, more common illnesses that develop in the chest, such as lung cancer or pneumonia. Peritoneal mesothelioma may be misdiagnosed for other abdominal-related conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or ovarian cancer.
Misdiagnosis is more likely to happen when doctors are unaware of a patient’s history of asbestos exposure. Without knowing of previous exposure, doctors may fail to connect a patient’s symptoms with an asbestos-related disease like malignant mesothelioma.
Pleural Mesothelioma Misdiagnosis
Since pleural mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer, it is frequently misdiagnosed. However, failure to diagnose pleural mesothelioma properly and early can delay treatment and affect a patient’s prognosis.
Early-Stage Pleural Mesothelioma Misdiagnosis
In its earlier stages (stages 1 and 2), pleural mesothelioma is extraordinarily challenging to spot within the human body. As a result, it is commonly misdiagnosed as other respiratory conditions with similar symptoms.
Below, learn more about common misdiagnoses for early-stage pleural mesothelioma.
Emphysema is caused when the alveoli in the lungs become damaged. Like mesothelioma, the condition gets progressively worse over time, making it common for doctors to misdiagnose early-stage pleural mesothelioma is emphysema.
Emphysema is typically recognized by two common symptoms of pleural mesothelioma: shortness of breath and a chronic cough.
Other symptoms shared between pleural mesothelioma and emphysema:
- Abundance of mucus
- Chest pain
- Loss of appetite
- Lung infections
Bronchitis and Chest Infections
Bronchitis and chest infections also share many of the same symptoms as early-stage pleural mesothelioma. Difficulty breathing, coughing, and mucus production are symptoms of all three conditions, as well as fatigue and fever.
However, bronchitis and chest infections are typically caused by viral infections, similar to cold or flu viruses. Mesothelioma, on the other hand, develops when asbestos fibers cause cancerous cell mutations in the lung lining (pleura).
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Early-stage pleural mesothelioma may also be misdiagnosed as COPD, a condition in which the lungs are damaged after exposure to irritants.
COPD is commonly associated with smoking to the point where the chronic, phlegmy cough is nicknamed “smoker’s cough.” Chest tightness, wheezing, and shortness of breath are other common symptoms of COPD.
Late-Stage Pleural Mesothelioma Misdiagnosis
Once a patient displays late-stage (stages 3 and 4) mesothelioma symptoms, or once a doctor discovers a cancerous tumor, it’s still possible for pleural mesothelioma misdiagnosis to occur.
In many cases, advanced pleural mesothelioma is misdiagnosed as a different type of cancer, such as lung cancer or adenocarcinoma. In some cases, it is misdiagnosed as pleural plaques.
The damage mesothelioma causes to the lung, as well as the tumors that are present, can be misdiagnosed as lung cancer — a condition separate from mesothelioma with different causes and prognosis.
While both mesothelioma and lung cancer can be treated with surgery, pleural mesothelioma is more aggressive and may require specific supplemental treatment, such as heated chemotherapy.
Adenocarcinoma is another form of lung cancer caused by tumors in the epithelial lining of the lungs.
Mesothelioma behaves in a very similar manner to adenocarcinoma, which makes it possible for even experienced oncologists and surgeons to confuse the two cancers.
People exposed to asbestos may develop pleural plaques, a noncancerous condition in which a chalky substance builds up on the pleura (lining of the lungs).
Because mesothelioma and pleural plaques are both located in the lung lining and caused by asbestos exposure, it’s possible for doctors to mistake pleural mesothelioma for pleural plaques.
Further, pleural plaques are often left untreated, meaning pleural mesothelioma patients who are misdiagnosed may not get the treatment they need to remove their tumors and slow disease progression.