How long a mesothelioma patient survives depends on a number of factors, but the stage at which the disease is diagnosed plays a huge role in life expectancy. Staging is a means for doctors to determine the extent of the cancer, identifying a specific stage according to factors such as size of the tumor, lymph node involvement, and whether or not the disease has spread to other organs.
Doctors employ the use of different staging systems when diagnosing mesothelioma, but the most popular systems are the Butchart, TNM and Brigham Systems. Each is unique but many similarities are present. If you would like to learn more about how staging affects treatment options for mesothelioma cancer, please fill out the form on this page to receive a complimentary packet in the mail.
Stage 1 is the earliest possible stage of cancer. Where pleural mesothelioma is concerned, a cancer in this stage generally alludes to the fact that it has only affected the chest area or lung on one side of the body and has not spread. Most staging systems note that there is no lymph node involvement in this particular stage.
Unfortunately, mesothelioma is rarely diagnosed in Stage 1. Instead, because of its long latency period, it has usually progressed to later stages when it is finally discovered. However, if it were to be detected in Stage 1, the patient would have a good chance for survival. Stage 1 patients are candidates for surgery to remove tumors or more aggressive procedures such as a pneumonectomy, which can remove the affected lung and all the cancer along with it.
At this point, the prognosis is very good and, though it rarely happens, patients may be a candidate for a full recovery.
Stage 2 mesothelioma is considered "advanced" mesothelioma in some staging systems and this stage usually indicates that the disease has moved beyond its point of origin, such as from the pleura to the lung or the diaphragm on the same side. Nymph nodes may be involved at this point, representing the potential for yet more spread of the disease.
In some staging systems, the mesothelioma at Stage 2 is still considered resectable and surgery remains an option. With other staging systems, it is not operable at this point. Instead, chemotherapy and radiation are generally recommended, often in tandem with each other.
At this point, life expectancy has decreased, especially if the tumor cannot be removed surgically and if the cancer has already spread to the lymph nodes. However, treatment during this stage with drugs like Alimta has been shown to add several months to more than a year to a patient’s life expectancy.
Most cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed around Stage 3 when the symptoms of the disease finally become apparent. At this point, the cancer has probably spread to the lymph nodes closest to the primary tumor location and to other nearby organs. The disease is considered very advanced at Stage 3.
Stage 3 mesothelioma is typically far too advanced to consider any sort of curative surgery, though surgery may be performed for palliative purposes. Most other treatments will also be used to shrink tumors or to provide relief from the debilitating symptoms of the disease.
At this point, life expectancy is probably less than a year and the main focus is on keeping the patient comfortable.
By Stage 4, mesothelioma is very advanced and has metastasized to distant locations throughout the body including the brain. At this point, the patient is probably in severe pain and many bodily functions have been compromised, so the victim’s overall health is poor, making treatment difficult.
Stage 4 patients may be given palliative treatments to relieve symptoms of the disease, such as a thoracentesis to drain the lungs and relieve pressure. Chemotherapy may be suggested but because the side effects of such treatments are so severe, many patients nearing the end of their life opt not to continue with treatment.
Life expectancy by Stage 4 is only months or weeks. Hospice care may be needed as pain medications will probably be required regularly and caring for the patient may become too difficult for family members.