Less Invasive Mesothelioma Diagnosis Using Cytology instead of Biopsy
By Kathy Cooke. 21st June 2019
A biopsy is a medical procedure that involves taking a sample of tissue from the body so it can be examined under a microscope. Any abnormal cells may be identified, which can help to diagnose a specific condition including Mesothelioma cancer cells. These samples may be taken from almost anywhere on or in your body, including the skin, organs and other structures.
In order to biopsy Mesothelioma tumours, surgery is usually necessary. This is because the tumours are often located in the base of lungs, abdomen or heart.
Mesothelioma is also difficult to diagnose because symptoms are often similar to other less serious conditions such as influenza or pneumonia in the earlier stages.
Shortness of breath and pains in the chest are common in the early stages of the disease, and up to a third of patients have experienced shortness of breath without chest pain.
Scientists in Australia say a biopsy may not always be necessary and have recently tested a less invasive diagnosis of mesothelioma using the fluid in the lungs.
Australia has some of the highest mesothelioma rates in the world, especially among the asbestos mine and mill workers at Wittenoom in Western Australia and at Baryulgil and later Woodsreef in New South Wales where workers experienced continuous, heavy exposure to asbestos dust.
In the latest study, the mesothelioma researchers compared surgical biopsy with a minimally invasive mesothelioma diagnosis tool called Cytology. In a newly-published article, they propose that lung fluid testing is accurate enough to make a minimally invasive mesothelioma diagnosis in the majority of potential Mesothelioma cases.
Many mesothelioma patients are old and weakened by the onset of the disease and may be too poorly for the more invasive biopsy.
Tissue Samples Versus Lung Fluid Samples
A common side effect of mesothelioma is a build up of fluid in the pleura, known as pleural effusion.
People diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma may have fluid in their abdominal cavity, which is called peritoneal ascites.
In both cases the fluid may contain free-floating mesothelioma cancer cells. With Cytology, this lung fluid can be extracted using a long needle, instead of having to take a tissue sample.
There are several advantages to Cytology:
- Is easier to get
- Causes less discomfort to the patient
- Is less likely to result in serious complications
- Costs less
Another advantage of the Cytology approach is to provide doctors with an easy way to test for genetic mutations. This can help to identify patients with Mesothelioma who may be eligible for clinical trials of certain gene-based treatments. Testing lung fluid for specific genes can help doctors tell the difference between mesothelioma and certain non-cancer conditions.
The authors of the report conclude that surgery may not always be necessary to diagnose malignant mesothelioma and have recommended that doctors and consultants make these tests available to their patients. They say that the less invasive mesothelioma diagnosis can help patients to avoid risks, such as pain and infection, of more invasive approaches of Biopsies.
This research compliments similar tests done recently in Sweden. Scientists there concluded that mesothelioma lung fluid testing might actually save lives as mesothelioma cells may show up in lung fluid before a tumour is visible. This earlier diagnosis can result in more effective of chemotherapy treatments.
If you have been recently diagnosed with an asbestos disease such as Mesothelioma and would like some advice, we are here to help. Please call us on the number below and ask for Warren or Kathy
1. National Center for Biotechnology Information.14 March 2017. Comparison of outcomes following a cytological or histological diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma
2. University of Western Australia. 14 Mar 2017. Comparison of outcomes following a cytological or histological diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma
Kathy Cooke MA. BSc
Cancer consultant and advisor
Kathy has worked in the cancer field for over 30 years. She was course leader for the MSc in Radiotherapy and Oncology at University of Hertfordshire. Then pre-treatment radiotherapy manager at the Cromwell Hospital in London and Partnership Quality Lead for Macmillan Cancer Support.. Read more >