Diagnosing Mesothelioma via Biopsy

Mesothelioma is a cancer that’s very difficult to diagnose, and a biopsy is the most definitive method for diagnosing it. Your doctor or mesothelioma specialist will be able to determine whether this method of diagnosis is necessary.

How Doctors Use Biopsies to Detect Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is an uncommon cancer that usually occurs in the tissue linings of the lung cavity (pleural). More rarely, mesothelioma can develop in the lining of the abdomen (peritoneal) or the heart (pericardial). Due to the rarity of this disease, diagnosing it can be difficult for less experienced doctors. Even an experienced mesothelioma doctor may have an issue determining the condition, due to how it’s easily mistaken for lung cancer or other illnesses. A biopsy is the only definite way to diagnose mesothelioma and usually needs to be performed if the veteran patient chooses to pursue legal recourse.

Needle Biopsy

A doctor may perform a needle biopsy if the patient is exhibiting mesothelioma symptoms. To perform a needle biopsy, the doctor will remove a small piece of the tumor from either the lung tissue, chest, abdomen, or another area, and send it to be tested.

First, the doctor inserts a long, hollow needle through the skin of the suspected area (sometimes with the guidance of imaging tests) where they’ll then remove small samples directly from the tumor. Normally, numbing medicine is all that’s needed for this procedure.

Veterans who were diagnosed with mesothelioma may be eligible for VA compensation. To find out if you qualify, speak with a patient advocate today.

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Pleural Biopsy

This type of biopsy gathers a sample specifically from the tissue lining the lungs or inside the chest cavity to analyze the presence of disease or infection. The health care provider will administer a numbing drug by injecting it through the skin and into the lung tissue lining or chest wall. Then, insert the hollow needle and remove a sample for testing.

Sometimes this test is performed with a fiberoptic scope, which allows the doctor to get a better view of the area.


This procedure is a lot like the pleural biopsy but instead removes fluid for testing instead of tumor samples. The hollow needle is inserted into the belly area, where the doctor will remove the fluid.


A procedure similar to paracentesis, thoracentesis involves the doctor removing the fluid samples from the chest instead of the abdomen.


For this form of diagnosis, the medical professional inserts the hollow needle into the sac around the heart to extract fluid samples.

Endoscopic Biopsy

Also known as a camera-assisted or video biopsy, an endoscopic biopsy is most commonly used by doctors to diagnose mesothelioma in patients. Instead of a needle, the health provider will insert a thin, cylindric and tube-like tool. The tube has a light and lens, or a small video camera on the end that can be used to look around the affected locations within the body.


To perform a thoracoscopy, the doctor will use an endoscope called a thoracoscope to look inside the chest area. This test can also be used to look at the pleural region and take tissue samples. In addition to testing, thoracoscopy is also used as a procedure to remove excess fluid from the chest.

This is also known as pleurodesis. Pleurodesis is a procedure primarily performed as a part of palliative care treatment for malignant mesothelioma patients.

Laparoscopy/ Peritoneoscopy

Sometimes called a peritoneoscopy, the laparoscopy is performed by a doctor inserting an endoscope (primarily known as a laparoscope) inside a patient’s stomach. This is to look around and remove samples from any tumors that may be present.

This procedure is more invasive and done on the operating table, where the patient will be put under general anesthesia. The doctor will create a few small incisions in the patient’s abdomen where the laparoscope will be inserted.


If imaging tests suggest cancer is metastasizing to the lymph nodes between the patient’s lungs, a doctor may choose to sample a small piece to analyze for a more accurate diagnosis. The testing area is a spot between the lungs, also called the mediastinum.

This procedure is also done on the operating table, where the patient is subdued with an anesthetic.

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Open Surgical Biopsy

An endoscopic biopsy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure, but an open surgical biopsy is more involved, with the surgeon creating larger incisions and extracting larger tissue samples. This is the next step in diagnosing mesothelioma if the endoscopic biopsy doesn’t reveal a clear enough diagnosis for the health provider.


This procedure involves a surgeon making a small incision in the chest cavity, where they’ll insert a tube. The medical professional will proceed to retrieve the tissue sample, as well as drain excess fluids to relieve the patient’s pain and pressure.


Much like the thoracotomy, a laparotomy involves a surgeon making incisions into the abdominal cavity to analyze the area and remove a larger sample of the tumors present.

Talk to Your Doctor

An experienced mesothelioma specialist will be able to accurately determine which biopsy is best for diagnosing a veteran’s potential asbestos-related conditions. Express all your concerns to your doctor, and don’t be afraid to get a second opinion if you feel it’s necessary.