Mesothelioma Symptoms and Staging
Common Mesothelioma Symptoms and How Doctors Stage the Disease
Mesothelioma grows slowly and silently. A tumor can grow inside the body for decades with no symptoms. Only when the tumor has grown large enough that it presses on vital organs or leaks fluid into the body cavity does the victim begin to experience telltale mesothelioma symptoms.
For pleural mesothelioma, the first symptoms can include:
- Moderate to severe chest pain,
- Shortness of breath,
- Constant fatigue, and
- Persistent dry cough.
Less frequent pleural mesothelioma symptoms can include weight loss, night sweats, and fevers.
Peritoneal mesothelioma also grows slowly and without symptoms. The first indicators are often nonspecific, and may include:
- Weight loss,
- Abdominal pain,
- Digestive disturbances,
- Increased abdominal girth or distention of the abdomen,
- Abdominal mass,
- Ascites (fluid in the abdomen), and
Symptoms for both conditions are nonspecific. They could be caused by any of a number of illnesses, and mesothelioma is often not suspected right away.
Staging is the term for the process of determining how far advanced a cancer is and how far it is spread from the original site. The goal of staging mesothelioma is to determine what kinds of treatment options will be most helpful and what a person’s life expectancy will be. All systems use four stages to describe the progress of mesothelioma. Stage I is the earliest, and Stage IV is the most advanced. Pleural mesothelioma is the most common form of the disease and the only one for which staging classifications have been developed.
Three mesothelioma staging systems are in use, each focusing on a particular aspect of the disease.
The oldest, the Butchart system, stages mesotheliomas according to the size of the original tumor and how much it has invaded other organs. Although it is widely used, it has less predictive value for planning treatment.
The TNM (Tumor/Node/Metastasis) system takes into account the size of the original tumor, the degree of involvement of the lymph nodes, which are the means by which tumors spread around the body and how far the tumor has spread. It is similar to staging systems used for most other cancers, and it has been adopted by most U.S. cancer centers.
The Brigham system is the most recently developed mesothelioma staging system. It evaluates mesothelioma from the perspective of surgical removal (respectability) and lymph node involvement.
In all mesothelioma staging systems, patients with stages I and II mesothelioma will likely be candidates for surgery, followed by multiple-drug chemotherapy. Patents with stage III and IV are generally offered chemotherapy in combination therapies. Staging mesothelioma is essential for making sound choices about treatment options and for determining the prognosis for mesothelioma patients.
The prognosis for malignant mesothelioma depends on how early in development is diagnosed and how aggressively it can be treated. Most mesothelioma victims do not seek a diagnosis until the symptoms are more painful and disabling. By the time a diagnosis is established, the disease is often far advanced.
Survival time from diagnosis can be less than a year. If early diagnosis is made and aggressive treatment is undertaken, survival times of 12 to 18 months can be expected. Some patients will live another two to five years. In addition to the stage of the tumor, other factors affecting prognosis are the patient’s age and general health, which affect the ability to tolerate surgery and the rigors of multiple-drug chemotherapies. The location of the primary tumor, how much can be removed, and how the mesothelioma responds to chemotherapy also affect the outcome.
A diagnosis of mesothelioma can turn life upside down, and harrow your life with terror and anger, anxiety and depression. These intense feelings can interfere with your ability to cope and even increase your pain. If feelings about your illness have stayed very intense, getting help in dealing with them will be an essential part of managing your pain. For most people, the single most helpful thing is talking with someone you trust.
If you or a loved one has mesothelioma, the asbestos attorneys at CaseyGerry can help. Our attorneys can protect your rights and hold the asbestos companies accountable for their failure to warn about the dangers of their products. You can reach our firm at (619) 238-1811.
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