7 Reasons Why Diagnosing Mesothelioma Is Often Difficult

Doctor talking with patient

Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer that develops after someone has been exposed to asbestos. This mineral was used extensively by manufacturers, construction companies, and the U.S. military prior to the early 1980s, placing millions at risk.

In the 20th century, many patients died from mesothelioma without ever knowing the name of their disease or that the asbestos in insulation, ceiling tiles, paint, and thousands of other commercial and consumer products was likely to blame.

For a number of years, there were no workplace protections or organized support options since the link between these dangerous products and the diseases they can cause was hidden by manufacturers.

Thankfully, a lot has changed since the turn of the century. Mesothelioma victims and their families are now able to get the support they need through mesothelioma lawsuits.

Yet even today, many people wait months to receive an accurate mesothelioma diagnosis after first reporting symptoms. During this delay, the cancer can spread, limiting treatment options and the time a patient has to effectively fight the disease.

As a trusted mesothelioma law firm, Sokolove Law has helped thousands of families understand their options after a diagnosis and secure the results they need for financial stability during treatment and after.

Plus, we have registered nurses on staff who can help patients understand their symptoms, get a second opinion, and connect with specialized doctors.

Get a Free Mesothelioma Case Review

Why Is Mesothelioma Difficult to Diagnose?

Despite the now well-known dangers of asbestos, advocacy organizations, and research communities dedicated to fighting this disease, mesothelioma remains incredibly challenging for patients to recognize and physicians to diagnose.

Learn about 7 reasons mesothelioma is difficult to diagnose below.

1. Many People Don’t Know They Were Exposed to Asbestos

Until the 1970s, when the health risks became public knowledge, asbestos was used extensively by a variety of companies as well as the U.S. military.

For decades, people went to their jobs — as boiler tenders, insulators, pipefitters, and more — and unknowingly inhaled asbestos fibers throughout the day.

“I was first exposed to asbestos in construction through sheetrock, gaskets, and piping during my 43-year career. After I was diagnosed with mesothelioma, I didn't know what to think. I didn't realize that my job had exposed me to this.”
– John, Mesothelioma Survivor & Firm Client

But it wasn’t just the workers directly touching, cutting, or sanding asbestos-containing materials who were hurt. Asbestos could spread throughout a workplace or be carried home on a worker’s clothes, putting their family at risk.

Secondhand asbestos exposure underscores just how pervasive the microscopic fibers can be. For this reason, doctors should ask patients about their family’s work history and any potential asbestos exposure.

2. Mesothelioma Can Take Decades to Develop

After asbestos enters the body, it can take 20-50 years for victims to begin experiencing mesothelioma symptoms noticeable enough to seek medical treatment.

Over this long latency period, asbestos fibers remain in the body and cause inflammation, scarring, and irreversible damage, which can lead to the development of cancer cells.

Because it can take so long for this cancer to develop, people may forget about having potentially been exposed to asbestos decades ago. This can make it difficult for their doctor to consider mesothelioma as a possible diagnosis.

However, a patient’s exposure history often holds the key to diagnosing their present-day illness.

With a database of asbestos job sites and companies that used asbestos, Sokolove Law can help you track down when and where you may have been exposed to asbestos.

Call (800) 995-1212 now to find out if your family may be eligible for compensation.

3. Mesothelioma Symptoms Are Mistaken for the Common Cold

When the first signs and symptoms of mesothelioma do appear, they can be very similar to other conditions like the common cold, COVID-19, flu, pneumonia, and more.

Mesothelioma symptoms can include:

  • Chest pain
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Fluid buildup in the lungs or abdomen
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Night sweats
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss

It’s easy for patients and doctors to ignore these symptoms or attribute them to another common illness. Since many mesothelioma victims are older when diagnosed, they may mistake signs of this disease for signs of aging.

“When my husband got up he said, ‘I just don’t feel good,’ and I knew something was wrong because he doesn’t complain.”
– Dee, Wife of a Mesothelioma Patient & Firm Client

Even when these symptoms force a person to seek medical attention, there are dozens of other possible causes that are much more common than mesothelioma. Not every physician can separate signals from the noise.

4. Many Doctors Haven’t Diagnosed or Treated Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is rare, with only 3,000 cases diagnosed each year. As a result, most doctors have little or no experience diagnosing and treating it.

“The index for suspicion for mesothelioma is somebody who has been exposed to asbestos, so it’s important for physicians, internists, pulmonologists, oncologists, and other clinicians to be persistent and do a careful history of exposures.”
– Dr. Andrea Wolf, Mesothelioma Specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital

Even with the right tests, a doctor who’s unfamiliar with mesothelioma may incorrectly interpret the results, potentially leading to a misdiagnosis and delaying appropriate testing, treatment, and care.

If you or someone in your family may have been exposed to asbestos, it's important to let your doctor know this as soon as possible in the diagnosis process. This way, they can look for signs of asbestos-related diseases.

It’s not enough to just get a second opinion — the physicians who run the tests should be mesothelioma specialists.

5. There’s No Easy Test for Mesothelioma

Screenings are one of the most important preventative measures a person can take in order to catch cancer early and give themselves the best odds of success.

Unfortunately, multiple tests are required to be sure someone has mesothelioma, some of which can be invasive.

To diagnose mesothelioma, doctors will need to perform:

  1. A physical exam to understand symptoms
  2. Imaging scans like X-rays, CT scans, PET scans, and MRIs
  3. A biopsy to remove a tissue sample and examine it for cancerous cells

The only way to confirm mesothelioma is through a biopsy. However, some patients may be concerned about undergoing surgery for biopsies if they’re older or suffering from severe symptoms.

All of these tests and travel expenses to doctor appointments can add up to significant out-of-pocket costs for families. Health insurers may deny coverage for these necessary appointments, adding even more stress to families.

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you may be eligible for compensation that can help with these costs. Find out now during a free case review.

6. Mesothelioma Is Misdiagnosed in Over 20% of Cases

An accurate mesothelioma diagnosis is the result of a team of doctors who have the right experience. Not every hospital is equipped to handle this task.

As a result, about 22.6% of mesothelioma patients are misdiagnosed.

Mesothelioma may be confused for:

  • Bronchitis
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Gallbladder issues
  • Heart disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Pneumonia
  • Ovarian cancer

Despite advances in cancer research and testing, mesothelioma remains extremely hard to detect and differentiate from other diseases.

“One year, I think I had pneumonia four or five times. It kept coming back or getting closer together. I walked into the hospital and told them I needed to know why. They eventually pointed out the cancer.”
– Walter, U.S. Navy Veteran & Firm Client

7. People Don’t Realize They’re Still At Risk

Many Americans think that asbestos is banned. Others think asbestos is no longer a threat. Neither of these is true.

In 1989, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took steps to ban all uses of asbestos, but these actions were overturned just 2 years later.

Asbestos is still in use today despite being banned in more than 60 countries nationwide already.

In fact, about 114 tons of asbestos were imported into the U.S. within the first 3 months of 2022, potentially putting even more workers and households at risk of exposure in the future.

The end result is that asbestos still lurks in homes, schools, and workplaces across the country. As this “legacy asbestos” degrades over time, it generates asbestos dust that can be deadly if inhaled, posing a risk when disturbed during renovations or demolitions.

And even though asbestos is more regulated than it used to be, people are still getting sick.

“The hope that mesothelioma would disappear after the implementation of strict regulations on asbestos has not materialized; instead, the number of new mesotheliomas per year and of deaths per year continue to increase.”
– American Cancer Society Study, Led by Dr. Michele Carbone

Despite the serious, ongoing public health risk, many mistakenly believe that asbestos is a thing of the past. When symptoms come, they may fail to take appropriate steps that would lead to an early and accurate diagnosis.

The Value of Mesothelioma Second Opinions

Because of the struggle to get a mesothelioma diagnosis, it’s incredibly important to seek out a second opinion. Since mesothelioma is rare and easily mistaken for other conditions, not all doctors will be able to make a timely diagnosis.

Mesothelioma specialists often have decades of experience diagnosing and treating this type of cancer specifically, allowing them to quickly and accurately identify the disease.

“With me, my doctors could never find it. I had every test that could be done, and they never found anything. I took those same scans to my mesothelioma doctors, and they saw it right away.”
– Mary Jane, 15-Year Mesothelioma Survivor

In fact, the American Cancer Society recommends that experienced mesothelioma specialists should always confirm a diagnosis.

A second opinion can also help patients understand their options and fight the disease most effectively. It will also give patients peace of mind knowing that they are getting the most accurate information.

Get Help Pursuing Mesothelioma Compensation & Care

The fight for a mesothelioma diagnosis can be challenging. With registered nurses on staff, we can help you or your loved one understand your symptoms and find a specialist near you.

At Sokolove Law, our mesothelioma attorneys can also pursue compensation that can help pay for your medical bills, travel expenses to treatment, and more.

“I would tell other mesothelioma patients, first of all, you need help like I did.”
– Dennis, Mesothelioma Warrior & Firm Client

With over 45 years of experience fighting on behalf of those affected by mesothelioma, we have recovered over $5 Billion for our clients nationwide.

Our team strives to make the legal process as easy and stress-free as possible, so you can focus on your family and treatment.

See if we may be able to help you by calling (800) 995-1212 or getting a free case review now.

Sokolove Law Team

Contributing Authors

The Sokolove Law Content Team is made up of writers, editors, and journalists. We work with case managers and attorneys to keep site information up to date and accurate. Our site has a wealth of resources available for victims of wrongdoing and their families.

Last modified: March 15, 2024

  1. American Cancer Society. “Mesothelioma: Scientific clues for prevention, diagnosis, and therapy.” CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. Retrieved from: https://acsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.3322/caac.21572. Accessed on March 14, 2024.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Malignant Mesothelioma Mortality - United States, 1999–2015.” Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6608a3.htm. Accessed on March 14, 2024.
  3. E&E News. “U.S. asbestos imports surge despite crackdown.” Retrieved from: https://www.eenews.net/articles/u-s-asbestos-imports-surge-despite-crackdown/. Accessed on March 14, 2024.
  4. Kopylev, L., Sullivan, P., Vinikoor, L., Bateson, T. “Monte Carlo Analysis of Impact of Underascertainment of Mesothelioma.” Retrieved from: https://benthamopen.com/contents/pdf/TOEPIJ/TOEPIJ-4-45.pdf. Accessed on March 14, 2024.
  5. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Asbestos.” Retrieved from: https://www.epa.gov/asbestos. Accessed on March 14, 2024.