The Role of Diagnostic Imaging in Early Detection of Cancer
Imaging tests are first and least invasive option for diagnosis.
By Rachel Lynch, Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.
Each year cancer takes the lives of over 500,000 Americans (1). Fortunately, cancer studies have shown that early detection yields better outcomes for patients – and diagnostic imaging plays an essential role. Deaths from cervical cancer in the United States, for example, declined substantially after annual screening with the Pap test became common practice. Screening for colorectal and breast cancer have also been shown to reduce mortality from these cancers (2).
Mesothelioma, a rare cancer, is a good case study for the importance of early detection through the use of medical imaging. Mesothelioma, caused by exposure to asbestos particles, impacts between two and three thousand Americans each year. The cancer develops when the microscopic fibers are inhaled and embed in the lining of the organs – such as the heart, lungs, and abdominal cavity.
Imaging is helpful while dealing with rare diseases such as mesothelioma which have many barriers to accurate and timely diagnoses. Mesothelioma has a long latency period – symptoms of the disease typically do not manifest until 20 to 40 years after asbestos exposure. Once symptoms manifest, the cancer is often misdiagnosed as more common illnesses such as the flu or pneumonia. By the time these hurdles have been jumped, the cancer has often progressed to the third or fourth stage when treatment options are limited (3).
Early detection through imaging technology is first step toward improved prognosis
Early diagnosis through the use of imaging technology can enable some of these issues to be resolved much more quickly. Thus allowing for improved prognosis (4)- currently those who are diagnosed with mesothelioma have a short 12 to 21 months to live.
Catching mesothelioma before it spreads can increase the effectiveness of treatments, as well as enable greater opportunity for more aggressive treatments.
Imaging tests are the first and least invasive options when doctors go to diagnose patients. Having the best and most innovative machines can save patients from further more invasive – and sometimes unnecessary – testing.
There are three main types of tests used to diagnose mesothelioma: imaging scans, blood tests, and biopsies. Imaging scans (5) in general are used to obtain information about the cancer such as stage. X-rays are helpful in locating fluid in the lungs which is one of the early signs of mesothelioma. Computer Tomography (CT) scans provide a series of X-ray images to form a 3D image, allowing tumors to be spotted more easily. An MRI can be helpful in diagnosing metastasis of the mesothelioma. PET scans can help distinguish benign versus malignant tumors.
Each type of imaging scan has a place in the mesothelioma diagnosis and treatment process which are transferable to other cancers and diseases at large.
Saving lives is a top priority and included in that mission is maintaining a good quality of life. Imaging technology are important tools that can be utilized in the fight against aggressive diseases.
Rachel Lynch is the Press and Media Coordinator for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, specializing in asbestos use around the world. #mesothelioma #cancer #EverythingRad
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