As soon as a patient has received the diagnoses of mesothelioma, it is imperative that the oncologist specializing in the study of the cancer determines the stage of the cancer development. The progression of the cancer often refers to the spreading or metastases, and each stage is based upon the point to which it has spread. Staging is typically associated to the process used to determine the extent of the disease. Understanding a patient’s stage of cancer is important when selecting forms of treatment. Mesothelioma treatments often hope to ease the symptoms of the cancer and prolong the life of the patient as long as possible. Sadly, warning signs of mesothelioma tend to lie latent for approximately 20-50 years, which leaves many patients suffering in the late stages of cancer. Survival rates are often low. But it’s never too late to take action, and with each stage requiring a different and special form of treatment, determining the stage is critical.
Localized mesothelioma (first stage) is confined to an infected mesothelium, the tissue surrounding the body’s internal organs, which is most commonly the pleura, or the tissue surrounding the lungs. However, as the cancer cells spread to other areas of the body, such as the abdomen, chest, and lungs, it is considered to be in the advanced stages (stages II-IV). The type of treatment necessary for a patient depends on the stage and level of metastases that the cancer has reached. Although there are different methods of staging systems, there are four basic classifications that physicians use for mesothelioma.
Read more in the book “Surviving Mesothelioma and Other Cancers: A Patient’s Guide“
During stage I, the mesothelioma cells remain in the mesothelium of the chest, although it can also be found in the tissue surrounding the heart, diaphragm, or the lung. Typically, stage I is treated by surgically removing the cancerous cells, as well as some surrounding tissue. If the mesothelioma is localized, but found in more than one location, a pleurectomy – partial removal of the membrane surrounding the lung – may be an option. Very often when dealing with stage I, radiation treatment and drug therapy follow surgery. Prognosis for remission can be calculated during this stage.
Stage II has a great deal to do with whether or not the regional lymph nodes have been penetrated by the mesothelioma cells or not. In fact, that determination is the defining factor in labeling mesothelioma as stage II or III. While malignancy in stage II has spread from the chest wall to the tissue of the long, and possibly the diaphragm, it has not reached the lymph nodes. Metastases reaching the lymph nodes is labeled as stage III.
In stage III malignancy has moved into the regional lymph nodes, as well as beyond the diaphragm and into the peritoneum (the lining of the abdominal wall).
In this stage, the mesothelioma has spread to distant critical organs, such as the heart, spine and esophagus.
The staging process usually includes chest x-rays, CAT scans, MRIs, and PET scans. Stage diagnoses often determine the methods of treatment that patients selects in effort to extend their life expectancy, as well as decrease the symptoms related to mesothelioma. There are a number of different treatment methods, ranging from the traditional to the experimental. Treatment methods researched and upheld, like chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation are examples of more traditional methods; however, experimental treatments, like immunotherapy, angiogenesis inhibition therapy, and photodynamic therapy, are also options in today’s world. Additionally, there are some holistic treatments that can boost the immune system. The most common forms of treatment are typically combinations of several methods. Knowing the stage empowers the oncologists, as well as the patients, about the realities of life with mesothelioma.