Unusual Cancers of the Chest
Risk Factors, Symptoms, and Diagnostic and Staging Tests
Mesothelioma is sometimes a late effect of treatment for an earlier cancer, especially after treatment with radiation therapy. In adults, mesothelioma has been linked to being exposed to asbestos, which was once used as building insulation. There is no information about the risk of mesothelioma in children exposed to asbestos.
Mesothelioma may cause any of the following signs and symptoms. Check with your doctor if any of the following problems occur:
- Trouble breathing.
- Pain under the rib cage.
- Weight loss for no known reason.
Other conditions that are not mesothelioma may cause these same symptoms.
Tests that examine the pleura are used to diagnose and stage mesothelioma. They may include:
- Physical exam and history.
- X-ray of the chest.
- CT scan.
- PET scan.
- Fine-needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy.
See the General Information section for a description of these tests and procedures.
Other tests used to diagnose mesothelioma include the following:
- Bronchoscopy: A procedure to look inside the trachea and large airways in the lung for abnormal areas. A bronchoscope is inserted through the nose or mouth into the trachea and lungs. A bronchoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove tissue samples, which are checked under a microscope for signs of cancer.
- Thoracoscopy: An incision (cut) is made between two ribs and a thoracoscope (a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing) is inserted into the chest to check for signs of disease.
- Thoracotomy: An incision (cut) is made between two ribs to check inside the chest for signs of disease.
- Cytologic exam: An exam of cells under a microscope (by a pathologist) to check for anything abnormal. For mesothelioma, fluid is taken from around the lungs or from the abdomen. A pathologist checks the cells in the fluid.
The prognosis (chance of recovery) is better when the tumor has not spread or come back after treatment.
Treatment for mesothelioma in children may include one or more of the following:
- Surgery to remove the part of the chest lining with cancer and some of the healthy tissue around it.
- Radiation therapy, as palliative therapy, to relieve pain and improve quality of life.
See the PDQ summary on adult Malignant Mesothelioma Treatment for more information.