How is mesothelioma diagnosed?

No laboratory test can specifically diagnose mesothelioma, but there are a number of ways to tell if someone has the condition, including the following:

  • Physical exam and history – The doctor will check the patient’s general health and look for signs of disease, such as lumps or any other unusual symptoms. The doctor will also ask questions about health habits, exposure to asbestos, past illnesses, and treatments.
  • Chest computed tomography (CT) scan – Can show abnormal growths or thickening of tissue inside the chest cavity.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan – Can show if the disease is metastasizing (spreading).
  • Complete blood count (CBC) – A blood sample to check on red and white blood cell counts and certain antibodies (disease-fighting proteins)
  • Biopsy – Removal of tissue from the lining of the chest or abdomen to search for cancer cells under a microscope. A biopsy can be done by either using a thin needle or by making a small cut to take out the tissue needed.
  • Bronchoscopy – Insertion of a bronchoscope through the nose or mouth into the trachea (windpipe) and lungs. The bronchoscope is a tube-like device with a light and a lens for viewing structures inside the airways. It may also have a tool that can take tissue samples.
  • Cytologic exam – Fluid is taken from around the lungs or abdomen and checked under a microscope.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/29/2016.


  • Raja S, Murthy SC, Mason, DP: Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma. Curr Oncol Rep DOI 10.001/s11912-011-0177-9. Springer Science+Business Media LLC, 2011.
  • Ai, J., Stevenson, J.P. Current issues in malignant pleural mesothelioma evaluation and management. Oncologist. 2014:19;975-984.
  • Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry. Living with Asbestos Accessed 2/3/2016.
  • National Cancer Institute. Malignant Mesothelioma Treatment Accessed 2/3/2016.

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