Mesothelioma is a rare form of asbestos cancer that is typically related to asbestos exposure. There are three types of mesothelioma: pleural (lung), peritoneal (abdomen) and pericardial (heart).
Pleural mesothelioma is the most common form of mesothelioma, accounting for 60 to 70 percent of all cases. Peritoneal and pericardial mesotheliomas are much less prevalent, representing only 30 to 35 percent and five percent, respectively.
Mesothelioma is a unique cancer because it does not have one solid, detectable mass. Instead, the tumor sprawls along the lining (mesothelium) of the lungs, heart and abdomen. A common symptom of mesothelioma is pleural effusion (fluid buildup) in the pleural area, between the lungs and the chest wall. Often, this is detected by CT scan or chest x-ray. Mesothelioma is often confirmed following a number of procedures, including a biopsy, tissue test, MRI and PET scan.
Mesothelioma is usually regarded as localized if the cancer is found only where it began. It is considered advanced if it has spread to other portions of the body.
Once diagnosed, doctors will determine how advanced the cancer is, how much it has metastasized (spread), and if there is any lymph node involvement. This process is called staging. Mesothelioma, however, does not follow the standard cancer staging system because the cancer is unpredictable in the way that it grows.
There are several staging systems currently being used for mesothelioma. The staging systems include the TNM Staging System, the Butchart Staging System, and the Brigham Staging System. The TNM staging system is the major staging system. T stands for “tumor” and refers to the tumor size and how far it has spread to nearby organs; N stands for “node” and classifies the cancer based on its spread to the lymph nodes; and M stands for “metastasis,” which refers to whether or not the mesothelioma has spread to other (distant) organs. The TNM Staging System assigns categories and numbers to determine the overall mesothelioma stage. Of course, mesothelioma patients with lower stage numbers have a better likelihood of recovery from the disease or a better chance at long-term survival.
The Butchart System, the oldest of all staging systems, is based on the magnitude of the primary tumor mass. It divides mesothelioma into the four stages and it is still currently being used by many specialists in the field. The Brigham Staging System also uses four stages and it is based on whether the mesothelioma can be treated or removed by surgery. It is also based on whether or not the body’s lymph nodes are involved.
There are four mesothelioma stages: Stage I, Stage II, Stage III and Stage IV. Staging is the process of finding out how far the mesothelioma has spread. It is based on imaging studies such as x-rays, CT scans, and MRI scans. The type of treatment and the prognosis for the patient depends on the stage of their cancer. Once the stage, type of mesothelioma, and overall health of the patient have been determined, the doctor will explore the various treatment methods.
Regardless of the staging system used, it is necessary that the cancer be localized in order to have an effective, aggressive mesothelioma treatment plan. Many Stage I mesothelioma patients undergo various types of surgery to have the tumors removed. There has been some success with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, also.
Stage II and III:
Unfortunately, mesothelioma is often diagnosed when it’s already very advanced. When the cancer has progressed into Stages II and III, it is treated the same. Treatment options include palliative and supportive care, such as removing fluid accumulation in the chest cavity and abdomen, in order to provide relief from symptoms. In some cases surgery may be possible. Finally, the doctor may choose radiation therapy or chemotherapy aimed at easing symptoms. Cure is usually not possible for patients in these stages.
Once mesothelioma reaches Stage IV there is no cure. Depending on the treatment plan, it is possible that mesothelioma may return in its original location. It is more common, however, that the cancer will turn up in another portion of the body.