From the blog

Study: More Mesothelioma Diagnoses Are Discovered At Autopsy Than Clinically

Published: September 1, 2017

A mesothelioma diagnosis often a grim one; fatality rates are high as there is no known cure. Treatment can help alleviate pain and symptoms, but more often than not, patients will succumb to this deadly asbestos-caused disease. While treatment has proven to be difficult, diagnosing mesothelioma and other asbestos-caused illnesses is often just as challenging. In a time when early diagnosis is key to successful treatment, researchers from  the National Institute for Occupational Health (NIOH) in Johannesburg have found that after studying 149 mine workers in South Africa , more often than not, asbestos-related disease was found after the patient had died; during the autopsy.

Records of all former asbestos mine workers who were examined clinically and then who had autopsy examinations at the NIOH were investigated. The following was discovered for the 149 combined cases of asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer:

77 cases found at autopsy
55 cases diagnosed before hand

27 cases found at autopsy
14 cases diagnosed beforehand

Lung cancer
22 cases found at autopsy
3 cases diagnosed beforehand

Researchers concluded that doctors identify mesothelioma while the patient was still alive and able to receive treatment about 40 percent of the time.  However, doctors had a much higher rate of correctly ruling our mesothelioma; 97 percent.

The disease itself is difficult to diagnose– the long latency period between asbestos exposure and illness typically leads patients to think their symptoms are something else. Many may not even remember working with the carcinogen or even be aware they were exposed at some point.  For example, some cases of mesothelioma were the result of asbestos exposure as a child; playing in an attic that contained asbestos.  Symptoms do not become apparent until the disease is already in the advanced stages.

After an initial physical examination, your doctor will determine if more tests are needed to either rule out or diagnose mesothelioma. Imaging tests are standard procedure to look at what is going on inside the body. There are many different types of mesothelioma imaging tests and most patients will have more than one when determining diagnosis.

  • Chest X-ray
  • Computed Tomography (CT) Scan
  • Echocardiogram
  • Position Emission Tomography (PET) Scan
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scan

Researchers who studied the former South African mine workers found that part of the contributing factor to missed diagnosis, especially for asbestosis, was the quality of the chest x-ray itself.  Images provided a “false negative” and x-ray quality was acceptable, but not good enough.  For this such reason, it is recommended that doctors not depend solely on x-rays alone as it is not reliable enough to accurately rule out mesothelioma.



Ndlovu, N, et al, “Asbestos-related diseases in mineworkers: a clinicopathological study,”  ERJ Open Research ( August 25, 2017). [Link]

Contact Us
Have you received a diagnosis? *