Mesothelioma is a terrible disease that has a huge latency period. To explain in more detail, latency period refers to the time duration between the exposure to the causative agent and the onset of the disease. The causative agent in the case of this disease is asbestos. The manifestation of indications of this disease is much after exposure to asbestos. Sometimes, this may be even after 20-50 years.
Another notorious characteristic of this disease is that it has symptoms that are very similar to other benign diseases. Many times pleural mesothelioma (lung cancer) is confused with pneumonia and this leads to dire consequences. What happens is that the patient is in the last stages before they even realize they have such a killer disease. Therefore, little can be done to help them the last stages of cancer.
Certain treatments have been devised for mesothelioma. However, these only help to mitigate the painful symptoms. Normally, the spread of the disease cannot be checked. There is no known cure for this disease. The choice of treatment for a mesothelioma patient is based on the stage of mesothelioma that he or she is in.
Stages of Mesothelioma
The Butman system is used to define the Mesothelioma staging system. The entire basis of this system is the extent to which the tumor has spread. The various levels of mesothelioma based on this system are as follows:
Stage I: At this stage, the presence of mesothelioma is in the right side or the left side of the pleura (lungs). It may also be in the pericardium or diaphragm. Diaphragm is the muscle that separates the chest and the abdomen. In this stage, mesothelioma is only on one side (left or right) of the pleura.
Stage II: In this degree of mesothelioma, the disease spreads to the other side of pleura or to the esophagus or heart or chest wall or even the lymph nodes.
Stage III: In this phase, the disease is in a serious assaulting phase. It spreads from the diaphragm into the peritoneum. Peritoneum refers to the abdominal cavity lining. While in the previous stage, the lymph modes of the chest may be involved. This stage may involve the lymph nodes beyond the chest too.
Stage IV: This is the final terrible stage of mesothelioma wherein the disease spreads to the other organs through the bloodstream.
TNM staging System
The American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) has developed another new staging system. This TNM staging system is very similar to that used for other types of cancers. In this system T stands for tumor
N stands for the assault on lymph nodes and M stands for metasis.
The staging system is based on the following: § the size of the tumor and the extent to which it has spread to nearby organs § the extent of spread to lymph nodes § the extent of spread to distant organs.
The various degrees of mesothelioma as per the TNM staging system are as follows:
Stage I: The mesothelioma may be in the right or the left pleura. It may also have assaulted the pericardium or the diaphragm on the same side. However, it would not have spread to the lymph nodes.
Stage II: The disease may have spread to the lungs, diaphragm, lymph nodes or pericardium on the same side.
Stage III: In this phase, the mesothelioma may have spread into the muscles of the chest wall, ribs, esophagus, heart and other organs on the same side. It may also have spread further into the lymph nodes on the same side.
Stage IV: In this stage, mesothelioma affects the lymph modes in the chest on the same side or may start spreading to the lungs or pleura on the other side. Also, if mesothelioma is found in the distant organs or if it spreads to organs other than the abdomen and chest, (through the blood stream), it is the fourth stage.
Though the TNM system is more clear and comprehensive, still the Butchart system is popularly used to describe the stages of mesothelioma. Whatever the staging system used, it is important to understand that mesothelioma stage depiction is important for deciding the type of treatment to be used on a patient.
How are the stages of mesothelioma determined?
CAT scans, MRI testing and other tests like x-rays help to determine the stage of mesothelioma in the patient. After this, the doctor informs the patient and his or her family about the level and type of treatment that is required. Mesothelioma has no known cure. So, the doctor can only offer to reduce the symptoms, to mitigate the pain and provide psychological support.
What are the treatments offered to mesothelioma patients?
Chemotherapy, radiation and surgery are the options available for treating a mesothelioma patient. Apart from these traditional treatments, various new ones keep coming up every once in a while. However many are under study and need testing. To avail of them, a patient can undergo a medical trial. In this way, he will benefit the medical research in mesothelioma as well as avail of the new medicine or method of treatment. The health of the patient and the age of the patient will also be considered when deciding the level and type of treatment offered for a patient. While undergoing treatment for mesothelioma cancer, the patient needs not only physical strength but also emotional strength. The patient should be strong at heart to face whatever happens next.