Chest pain, shortness of breath and difficulty swallowing are all symptoms of pleural mesothelioma, yet these complaints are also associated with a wide range of other diseases.
Unfortunately, the vague nature of symptoms can delay diagnosis of this rare disease. In a 2010 study published in Archives of Environmental and Occupational Health, comorbidity, the simultaneous presence of two or more diseases, was found to potentially contribute to an earlier diagnosis in a series of 100 patients.
The long latency period associated with malignant mesothelioma can further complicate arriving at an official diagnosis. With symptoms typically emerging 20 years or more after the patient first came into contact with asbestos, the cancer often goes undetected until it has progressed to an advanced stage. Unfortunately, the later the cancer is detected, the harder it is to treat. Curative methods such as surgery are consistently proven most effective in earlier stages of cancer.
In the study, patients with comorbidity were diagnosed approximately a month and a half after symptoms emerged. The 47 patients who were classified as simultaneously fighting another disease were most commonly also diagnosed with coronary artery disease, hypertension or diabetes mellitus, yet several other diseases were also recorded.
Although the researchers analyzing the study were unable to conclusively link comorbidity with a longer prognosis, when a patient reports symptoms of another disease to a doctor, tests to determine the origin may reveal mesothelioma, even if its presence was not currently suspected. Early detection has been proven to widen treatment options and improve a patient’s prognosis. Consequently, if a patient investigates other symptoms while the disease is still in its latency period, it may be diagnosed in an earlier stage when prognosis is best for regression.
Interestingly, those receiving treatment for multiple diseases had a median survival rate of nine months while those diagnosed only with malignant pleural mesothelioma had a median survival rate of five months. Although this may have been attributed to the study design, the researchers also considered that comorbidity may have resulted in improved care during the patient’s treatment plan.