Your mesothelioma prognosis, also referred to as the course of your illness, will be affected by similar factors that also affect your life expectancy with mesothelioma. These include:
- The stage of the illness when you are diagnosed.
- Whether you have any other long term illnesses or medical conditions when you are diagnosed.
- The kinds of treatments you are able to receive and how you respond to them.
Mesothelioma Prognosis: How Advanced is Your Mesothelioma?
The prognosis of your mesothelioma largely depends on how advanced it is at the time of your diagnosis and at subsequent check-ups. Mesothelioma is a cancer and cancer is a greedy illness. It needs to constantly devour healthy cells in order to continue to grow and increase in power. As more and more healthy cells are devoured, the functions of organs and other body systems that rely on healthy cells are compromised. Cancer treatment aims to halt cancer’s relentless destruction of the body’s healthy normal cells.
Like an evil dictator who seeks to expand power by invading neighboring countries, cancer if unchecked may move beyond its initial site and try to take over parts of the body. Mesothelioma is no exception. When this starts happening, mesothelioma is considered o be “advanced” and “spreading.”
When cancer spreads to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. Metastasizing cancer means the cancer cells have outgrown the original place where they first started to multiply (the primary tumor) and have started traveling through the body via the lymph system or blood.
If a tumor spreads to the bone, this new cancer deposit is called a bone metastasis. The metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if malignant mesothelioma spreads to the brain, the cancer cells in the brain are actually malignant mesothelioma cells. The disease is metastatic malignant mesothelioma, not brain cancer.
Even if mesothelioma has metastasized, it can be treated. But it is considered advanced.
Mesothelioma Prognosis in Stages
A mesothelioma prognosis is designated by assigning it a stage or level that the illness has reached. The stage a cancer has reached is assigned a number from 1 to 4. Unlike a game where the goal is to advance to the next level, with cancer staging, the lowest level is preferable. Tumor size and the spread of the cancer generally determine the stage of a cancer’s prognosis.
The U.S. government’s official cancer monitoring and research agency, the National Institute of Cancer (NCI), has developed specific cancer staging criteria for mesothelioma:
Stage 1 (Localized)
Stage 1 is divided into stages 1A and 1B:
In mesothelioma stage 1A, cancer is present in only one side of the chest. It is in the lining of the chest wall but may also be found in the lining of the chest cavity between the lungs and/or the lining that covers the diaphragm. It has not spread to the lining of the lungs.
In stage 1B, it has spread to the lining of the lungs but no further.
Stage 2 (Advanced)
In stage 2 mesothelioma, as with stage 1, cancer is found in one side of the chest in the lining of the chest wall, the lining of the chest cavity between the lungs, the lining that covers the diaphragm, and the lining of the lungs. But it has also spread into either the lung tissue or the diaphragm tissue or both.
Stage 3 (Advanced)
Stage 3 mesothelioma meets the same criteria as stages 1 and 2: cancer is found in one side of the chest in the lining of the chest wall. It may have spread to the lining of the chest cavity between the lungs, the lining that covers the diaphragm, the lining that covers the lung, the lung tissue and/or the diaphragm.
In addition, mesothelioma will have spread into lymph nodes where the lung joins the bronchus, along the trachea and esophagus, between the lung and diaphragm, or below the trachea.
Mesothelioma cells may also have invaded tissue areas between the ribs and the lining of the chest wall, between the lungs, within the chest wall and near the heart.
Stage 4 (Advanced)
If mesothelioma has reached stage 4, it may be found on both sides of the body. It is likely to have spread to lymph nodes throughout the chest or to areas above the collarbone.
It may also have spread into one or more of these areas:
- Through the diaphragm into the peritoneum (the thin layer of tissue that lines the abdomen and covers most of the organs in the abdomen).
- To tissue lining the chest on the opposite side of the original tumor.
- Into the organs in the center of the chest cavity.
- Into the spine.
- Into the tissue around the heart or into the heart muscle itself.
- To other parts of the body such as the spine, thyroid, or prostate.
Mesothelioma Prognosis and Treatment Options
Treatment options for mesothelioma may depend on the prognosis of the disease. If it has spread, surgery to remove affected tissue may not be possible. But other forms of treatment such as radiation and chemotherapy are still options. Receiving experimental treatment such as immunotherapy as part of a government-approved clinical trial may also be possible. Your oncology team will help you explore the best course of action taking into account your mesothelioma prognosis and other factors specific to you as an individual.