Screening for Asbestos Exposure
The idea of undergoing screenings for certain diseases is relatively new and often life-saving, as it helps medical professionals make timely diagnoses. Asbestos exposure is responsible for causing a broad range of diseases, from pulmonary fibrosis to kidney cancer. However, screening methods are unfortunately not available for each disease this hazardous agent can cause, which explains the alarming rate of misdiagnosis. On the bright side, multiple screening tests exist for lung disease, which is the most widespread health problem among victims of asbestos exposure. While the issue of misdiagnosis still remains, as asbestos-related diseases are incredibly challenging to correctly diagnose even by specialists, you can keep a close eye on your lungs by annually undergoing one or a combination of the following tests if you have a history of asbestos exposure.
This simple and quick test can reveal the presence of asbestos fibers in your lungs, as well as allow your doctor to form a relatively accurate opinion with regard to the damage they have caused to your lung tissue up to that point. Asbestos fibers appear as white spots on the chest X-ray, particularly when a significant amount reached your lungs. The downside of this screening method, however, is that, in the case of lung cancer and mesothelioma, it cannot give any indication concerning the type of tumor you have. It will only disclose the presence of the malignant growth. To find out additional information regarding your disease, such as what kind of cells it consists of and what stage it has reached, you will have to undergo more complex testing, such as a CT scan or a tissue biopsy.
Pulmonary Function Tests
Pulmonary function tests refer to a series of tests meant to assess the state of your lungs by evaluating various aspects, such as how effectively your lungs can deliver oxygen to your body and your breathing capacity. In terms of revealing the exact type of lung disease you may be suffering from, pulmonary function tests are unreliable, as their sole purpose is to measure certain parameters which will later aid your physician to determine what your diagnosis is. They are only part of a complete lung disease screening. Some of the most common pulmonary function tests people with a history of asbestos exposure are recommended are:
- plethysmography test, which measures the amount of gas in your lungs and for which you will have to breathe into a mouthpiece
- diffusion capacity test – a test whose purpose is to determine how well the alveoli (the tiny air sacs inside your lungs) work and which requires you to inhale gases such as helium or carbon dioxide
- spirometry, which measures the volume of air you inhale and exhale and for which you will also be asked to breathe into a mouthpiece while wearing a nose clip
CT and MRI Scans
While these imaging tests are rarely undergone as screening methods, you can opt to have one annually if you are at high risk of developing a disease. People who are most likely to receive a grim diagnosis are individuals who were heavily exposed to asbestos on the job, such as shipyard workers, boilermakers, insulators, and power plant workers. Even though both computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging entail a high accuracy and detect abnormalities within the body considerably sooner than X-ray, they are notably different when it comes to the asbestos-related diseases they can identify. Accordingly, CT scans are very effective in the detection of lung disease, whereas MRI scans can easily spot malignant tumors occurring elsewhere inside the body.
Because malignant tumors release various biomarkers in the blood, people who are susceptible to developing a disease as a consequence of asbestos exposure can have samples of their blood analyzed in this regard. Unfortunately, blood tests are not available for all types of cancer and their reliability is also relative, as the result depends on numerous factors. Since there can be multiple reasons why a certain biomarker is present in the blood, a positive result does not always mean that the person in question suffers from cancer. Blood tests are mostly accessible to people who might have mesothelioma, the most commonly employed being the following:
- The MESOMARK assay. It measures the amount of SMRP (serum-measured soluble mesothelin-related peptide) in the blood, a tumor marker often released by epithelioid or biphasic mesothelioma. The test can predict the occurrence of mesothelioma up to 3 years before the disease actually sets in and requires two samples of blood from the patient. However, the MESOMARK assay is not entirely reliable, so it is advisable to use it in conjunction with other screening methods.
- The N-ERC/mesothelin test. Similarly to the MESOMARK assay, this blood test was designed to quantify a form of mesothelin, but implies a significantly higher accuracy rate, as it uses a special enzyme. Thus, the N-ERC/mesothelin test is 95% reliable when it comes to detecting mesothelioma. On the other hand, it is only 76% useful at ruling it out.
- The Fibulin-3 test. Perhaps the most effective blood test for identifying mesothelioma at the moment, the Fibulin-3 test is over 96% accurate at detecting the disease, as well as more than 95% reliable when it comes to ruling it out. The test is also 100% precise at differentiating mesothelioma tumors from benign lung disease.