Understanding the Mesothelioma Stages

A diagnosis of mesothelioma can be heartbreaking, and many newly-diagnosed patients find themselves avoiding the subject of cancer and the many treatment options altogether. But navigating the stages of mesothelioma can actually be less difficult when you understand both the progression of the disease and the various forms of care available, from aggressive to palliative. In fact, the mesothelioma stages often determine which treatment options are available, and there are different staging systems that measure different variables. Taking the time to learn about the stages of mesothelioma and the staging systems is one of the best ways to participate fully in your or your loved one’s care.

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A Look at the Mesothelioma Staging Systems

There are three ways that the medical community gauges the severity of mesothelioma stages:

The Butchart System is the oldest and most common staging system and is based on tumor size, with Stage I seeing tumors only in the pleural lining and only on one side, Stage II seeing tumors in both sides of the lungs and in the lymph nodes, Stage III seeing tumors in the abdominal cavity and additional lymph nodes, and Stage IV seeing cancer in the bloodstream and organs.

The TNM System is very similar to the Butchart system, but looks not only at tumor size and growth, but also at the impact of mesothelioma on lymph nodes and other organs. In addition to the conditions outlined in the Butchart system, Stages I and II in the TNM system can include cancer appearing in the heart, lungs, or diaphragm.

The Brigham System of measuring mesothelioma stages is the most modern, as it measures the cancer’s progression as well as the potential effectiveness of various treatments. In Stages I and II, the tumors can be surgically removed, while Stage III is marked by the cancer having spread to other organs and becoming resistant to surgical treatments. Stage IV is defined by cancer that has metastasized throughout the body.

Treatment Options for Mesothelioma Stages I-III

The mesothelioma Stages I, II, and III describe disease that is only on one side of the chest, even if as in Stage II, there significant local spread to tissues, lymph nodes, or organs in the area where the cancer originated.

The standard care for mesothelioma Stages I through III typically includes multiple treatment options – known as multi-modality or tri-modality treatment – because patients who undergo surgery followed by radiation and chemotherapy have the best survival rates. Additionally, in the early mesothelioma stages, it is often possible to remove whole tumors or most of the mass of a tumor.

In a study titled Extrapleural pneumonectomy in the multimodality therapy of malignant pleural mesothelioma, published September 1996 in the Annals of Surgery, researchers followed 120 patients undergoing treatment for confirmed diagnoses of malignant mesothelioma. All of the patients had a tumor that was operable as confirmed by CT scan or MRI, and each underwent a type of surgery called extrapleural pneumonectomy followed by a combination of chemotherapy and radiation. The researchers observed that with tri-modality treatment, 45 percent of the patients survived two years and 22 percent survived five years.

In the later of the mesothelioma stages, however, it is possible that surgery is no longer a viable form of treatment because the cancer has spread too extensively. And the potential risks of the tri-modality treatment may make it unsuitable for some mesothelioma patients. Additionally, even in early mesothelioma stages, some patients may not be eligible for multifaceted therapies because their tumors are inoperable. In these cases, the patient may be treated with radiation and/or chemotherapy to alleviate symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.

Mesothelioma Stage IV Requires a Different Approach

A diagnosis of mesothelioma Stage IV means that the tumor or tumors are deemed inoperable and the disease has spread to the other side of the chest and/or to distant tissues, lymph nodes, or organs. The standard treatment for patients with the final of the mesothelioma stages is palliative chemotherapy to relieve symptoms and slow the disease’s progression, in addition to drug therapies to alleviate pain and in some cases, prolong life. The chemotherapy regimen that been shown to be the most effective is the combination of Cisplatin (brand name Platinol) and Pemetrexed (brand name Alimta).

Surgery to remove or debulk tumors can also help relieve symptoms in late stage mesothelioma, but may be too invasive for a patient already weakened by the cancer.

However, the most important form of care a Stage IV mesothelioma patient receives often comes in the form of love and emotional support offered by a compassionate medical team, family, and friends. Hospice care can provide a patient coping with the last stages of mesothelioma with physical comfort and dignity, while the presence of loved ones can give the patient the emotional and spiritual comfort that makes his or her final days peaceful and memorable.

Contact a Mesothelioma Lawyer

If you or someone you care about has received an early or late stage mesothelioma diagnosis, our Florida mesothelioma lawyers can help you build a strong case against the individuals or corporations responsible for your exposure to asbestos. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation with a Florida mesothelioma lawyer who will review your case and suggest a course of action.