Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos, and can form around the organs in the chest cavity and abdomen cavity. Asbestos fibers that are inhaled or swallowed become lodged in or around these areas. The cells affected multiply rapidly and form a cancerous mass, called a tumor. Additionally, If a piece of the mass breaks off and travels to another part of the body, called metastasis it can reattach and multiply in its new location creating a secondary tumor.
To locate these tumors and cell abnormalities, there are three types of scans available. They are:
Computed tomography or CAT scan – is a medical imaging method using tomography where digital processing creates a three-dimensional image of the internal organs of a patient. CAT scans work using X-ray images that are taken around a single axis of rotation, and can see objects (masses) underneath body parts (organs and bones) that can’t be detected through the use of x-rays. X-rays take a flat picture, whereas a CAT scan takes pictures from several angles at one time and puts them together as three-dimensional images. This of course, allows doctors to see tumors that would otherwise be hidden from view. Since its invention in the 1970s, CT has become one of the most important tools in medical imaging, as it is the standard in the diagnosis of many different diseases. CT scans are also used in preventive medicine and screening for many different types of cancer. CT scans are also very useful when detecting all types of lung parenchyma changes, from pneumonia to cancer.
Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI – create images that are clearer than x-rays through electromagnetic radiation. The scan is a non-invasive method used to create images of the inside of an object. While both CT and MRI scanners can generate many two-dimensional cross-slices of tissue, MRI scans can generate image contrast using many different properties unlike CT scans which only use X-rays. MRI scans can also create cross-sectional images in any plane, unlike CT scans which are limited to one axis of rotation. This technology has allowed doctors to operate at an earlier stage as the smaller, less clear beginning stages of mesothelioma can now be detected.
X-rays – these are the traditional method, and still used today for diagnosing mesothelioma because the tumors are often in areas where they can be easily seen. X-rays are usually taken first and then possibly MRI scans and CAT scans. In cases where a person can’t lie down in order to be able to have a CAT scan or an MRI scan, an X-ray is still the easiest way to see what might be wrong inside the body. While X-rays are most useful in detecting abnormalities in the skeletal system, including broken and fractured bones, X-rays can also be used to detect some abnormalities in soft tissue. For example, X-rays of the chest can be used to identify lung diseases such as pneumonia, lung cancer and pulmonary edema, and X-rays of the abdomen can detect blockage of the intestines. However, unlike MRI scans and CT scans, X-rays offer very little helpfulness in the detection of abnormalities in the brain or muscle mass.