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Award-Winning Study Shows that Mesothelioma Tissue Tests are Improving

family making medical decisionsBecause malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM) is such a tough disease to treat, it’s easy to feel like there’s little or nothing that patients have going for them. Fortunately, this isn’t true. At Kazan, McClain, Lyons, Greenwood and Harley, we make it our business to see that MPM patients have an advocate, someone who helps them learn their complete legal and medical rights. Making fully informed decisions about care and treatment is essential for people with mesothelioma.

Meanwhile, from the clinical end, researchers are making exciting new finds practically every month, many of which directly affect mesothelioma patients and their families.

Consider an award-winning presentation given at this year’s British Thoracic Oncology Group Conference. In it, researchers announced that diagnostic tissue tests for mesothelioma are getting better and better.

The ‘changing face of mesothelioma diagnosis’

Delivered by a team of British doctors from the Glenfield Hospital in Leicester, the poster session won one of the conference’s runner-up prizes, out of a field of 200 entries.

So, what did they say?

The team addressed the “changing face of mesothelioma diagnosis,” concluding that it is shifting toward earlier, more thorough diagnoses. Even though it may seem like cases of MPM have been confirmed in the same manner for the last 30 or 40 years, researchers said that’s not the case. In fact, in just the past decade, the diagnostics that oncologists use for MPM have undergone a seismic shift.

The authors proved as much by analyzing every case of mesothelioma reported in Leicester, England, between 2000 and 2010. The results of some basic number crunching indicated a major change in the ways oncologists find MPM.

Over a decade, histology makes a big leap

To start, researchers noted that nearly all cases of mesothelioma are now confirmed histologically – that is, under a microscope. Their data showed that while in 2000 just three-quarters of cases involved doctors examining cell samples up close, by 2010 that figure had jumped to 96 percent.

Likewise, the proportion of cases diagnosed during post mortem exams plummeted from 34 percent to just 4 percent.

What do these changes mean? Basically, more cases are being confirmed in a thorough manner, while fewer are dying before diagnosis.

The team also noted that the kinds of diagnostic tests being used are shifting:

  • In the first half of the decade, CT-guided biopsies were used to confirm diagnoses in just 6 percent of cases. By the end of the decade, 36 percent of MPM patients were undergoing this test.
  • Medical thorascopy also had a meteoric rise in Leicester. The team noted that this less invasive form of biopsying leaped from being totally unused to contributing to more than one-third of all diagnoses.
  • Meanwhile, invasive surgical biopsies declined from 43 percent to 20 percent.

“Pre-mortem histological diagnostic confirmation has significantly increased in the past five years compared to the previous five years and is now achieved in [more than] 95 percent of our patients,” the group concluded. “This is due to increased use of CT-guided pleural biopsy and medical thoracoscopy.”

What does this mean for patients?

There are several positive findings in this study. The first is that, by using tissue sampling and microscopic cell staining, doctors are diagnosing more cases of MPM during patients’ lifetimes, making people with mesothelioma more likely to get a solid prognosis and have access to proper treatments and palliative care.

The poster session also indicated that histological staining can adequately confirm the presence of MPM, sparing many patients the experience of undergoing an invasive diagnostic surgery.

Finally, it’s nice to know that the methods doctors use to diagnose mesothelioma are getting more sophisticated all the time.

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