Whenever you become ill, it is normal for your doctor to assess your condition and determine how bad your illness is. The same principle applies to a cancer diagnosis. Individuals with pleural mesothelioma, the most common form of mesothelioma, will be diagnosed according to the stage of cancer they have. Doctors use one of three different staging systems to determine how far the cancer has progressed and what treatment options might work best.
The stages of mesothelioma, and other cancers for that matter, correlate to the seriousness of the disease. Earlier stages are often more treatable, while stages 3 and 4 are considered more severe and damaging. The stages are measured based on the spread of the disease, the size of the tumors, and several other factors.
The TNM Staging System
According to the American Cancer Society, the TNM system, which was created by the American Joint Committee on Cancer, is the most widely accepted staging system. This system determines stages based on the size of the main tumor, the spread of cancer to nearby lymph nodes, and the spread of cancer to other organs in the body.
A patient will be considered stage 1 if the tumor is localized in the pleura lining in the chest wall on only one side. It might also affect the pleura lining of the diaphragm, the space between the lungs, or the pleura covering the lung. However, at this stage it has not spread elsewhere in the body, nor is it in the lymph nodes. It might also be considered stage 1B if it has spread to nearby structures, but those tumors are still easily removable. It could also have spread into other layers of the chest or lung.
At stage 2, the cancer has grown in the pleura lining of the chest on one side, as well as the diaphragm or the lung. It has also spread to local lymph nodes but still has not spread to other organs.
Stage 3 mesothelioma is in the pleura lining in the chest on one side, as well as the pleura of the lung, diaphragm, and the area between the lungs. It will also have moved into the first layer of the chest wall, the fatty tissue between the lungs, the deeper layers of the chest wall, or the surface of the heart. The cancer will also have spread to the local lymph nodes. It might have also grown into nearby organs or structures, but it could still be removable through surgery. At this stage, the main tumor might also have grown too far to be completely removed through surgery.
The main mesothelioma tumor has spread to nearby structures, lymph nodes, and distant organs. This may include growth in the bones, liver, lung, or the lining of the abdomen.
The Butchart Staging System
The Butchart staging system is the oldest system for diagnosing mesothelioma, and is still widely used and trusted today. Doctors using this system will stage the cancer based on the size of the tumor.
At stage 1, the cancer is only present in one side of the chest lining, though it might also have spread to the pericardium or the diaphragm.
The cancerous tumors are in the chest lining and may have spread to both sides. The esophagus or the lining of the heart could also have cancerous growths, and the nearby lymph nodes might also be affected.
Stage 3 mesothelioma tumors have spread to either the diaphragm or the abdominal lining. The lymph nodes outside of the chest cavity will also have been affected by mesothelioma cells.
Not only is a cancerous tumor in the chest, it has also spread to other organs or body parts, has affected the bloodstream, and the lymph nodes.
The Brigham Staging System
Although the TNM system does take surgical options into account, the Brigham staging system gauges the stage of cancer solely on a doctor’s ability to potentially remove the cancer surgically.
At stage 1, the mesothelioma tumor has not yet spread elsewhere and has not been found in the lymph nodes. Doctors will be able to remove the cancer in its entirety via surgery.
Though the cancer will be confined mostly to a tumor in the lining of the lungs, it will also have spread to the lymph nodes near the affected area. At stage 2, it is still possible to remove the cancer through surgery.
At stage 3, surgery is no longer an option, as cancer has spread to nearby organs and structures, like the chest wall or diaphragm.
Surgery is also out of the question for stage 4 patients. At this point, the cancer has spread to organs in other parts of the body, as well as the lymph nodes.
Unfortunately, because mesothelioma is so rare, the only variation of the disease currently followed by a staging system is pleural mesothelioma. However, doctors can still assess and treat all forms of mesothelioma cancers depending on the condition of each individual patient.
If you were diagnosed with mesothelioma, you might have contracted the disease from asbestos exposure. Asbestos exposure is the most common cause of mesothelioma and is often related to dangerous work environments, toxic debris, and old home insulation or piping. If you notice any symptoms of disease see your doctor immediately and find out if you have mesothelioma, and what treatment options are available to you.
Contact Shrader & Associates L.L.P. for help with your mesothelioma case.