There are four primary mesothelioma stages that doctors use to identify the seriousness of a mesothelioma diagnosis, labeled stage I, II, III or IV. The staging systems used to identify what stage of mesothelioma a patient has are the Brigham, TNM or Butchart systems. The lower stage number you’re given, the more treatment options you have, and the better your chances are for long-term survival.
Staging is an accepted way for cancer doctors to describe to patients – and to one another – how advanced the disease is, how prevalent tumors are and how far the cancer has spread. Given the aggressive nature of the cancer, mesothelioma staging is a key part of proper diagnosis and treatment.
Why is mesothelioma staging important? Because knowing where a cancer is in its development sets the table for treatment, which treatment options are available and which are not. For example, doctors use cancer stage as a guideline when deciding whether a patient is likely to benefit from surgery.
|The cancer is localized and surgery is most effective.|
The survival rate is highest at stage 1.
At this point of early development, tumors are close to the original tumor, having only grown in one layer of the lining of the lungs (pleura). The cancer may also have grown into the covering of the heart and the diaphragm on the same side as it first formed.
The life expectancy for someone with stage 1 mesothelioma is significantly better that those with later stages, and these patients may live three years or longer. However, it is difficult to catch the cancer this early because people with this stage do not usually have symptoms.
Curative surgery to remove the tumor is considered the first line of treatment, and doctors usually recommend aggressive treatment that includes chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Median life expectancy at stage 1 is 21 months.
|In stage 2, |
the cancer has started to spread. Surgery is still an option
and the survival rate is close to that of stage 1.
Stage 2 symptoms are vague and mild. Patients — and even doctors — sometimes mistake them for signs of other illnesses like the flu. Patients with peritoneal mesothelioma may lose weight and yet feel bloated.
Several treatment options are available, and doctors can usually offer curative surgery to remove tumors. In studies, some patients diagnosed at this point survive for years.
Median life expectancy at stage 2 is 19 months.
|The cancer has progressed to |
an advanced stage of spreading.
Surgery may still be an option
and chemotherapy can extend survival.
Once the cancer progresses to stage 3, it may have spread to several locations on the same side of the body as it formed. These areas may include the lymph nodes, esophagus, muscles, ribs, heart and the chest wall.
Pleural mesothelioma patients may suffer from more difficulty breathing and intense chest pain even when resting. Peritoneal mesothelioma usually involves some type of bowel obstruction and pain. Because the tumors have now spread to multiple areas of the body, discomfort may be felt in other parts of the body as well.
Tumors typically do not respond to potentially curative treatment, and some stage 3 cancer patients will find themselves ineligible for surgery. At that point, doctors offer palliative options.
Median life expectancy at stage 3 is 16 months.
|The cancer has spread extensively |
and surgery is usually not effective.
Chemotherapy, radiation therapy
and palliative treatments can extend survival
and provide symptom relief.
About 30 percent of mesothelioma patients are not diagnosed until this stage. By stage 4, tumors have metastasized (spread) throughout the body via the bloodstream and could be present on the liver, in the brain, bones or elsewhere.
Patients experience extreme difficulty breathing and suffer from severe chest pain. Tumors can spread to the esophagus or stomach, causing digestive problems and difficulty swallowing or eating.
Doctor's don't recommend aggressive surgeries. Instead, they fall back on palliative treatments designed to ease pain and control symptoms.
Median life expectancy at stage 4 is 12 months or less.
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