On this page: Stages of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma treatments have thus far been unable to limit the spread of the deadly cancer. Treatments for mesothelioma are divided into two categories: traditional mesothelioma treatments and new mesothelioma treatments. Traditional mesothelioma treatments are the same as those used to treat most other cancers, and include:
- Radiation therapy (radiotherapy)
Traditional mesothelioma treatments are often used in conjunction with one another in an effort to provide the most thorough and effective care. For example, trimodality therapy combines all three traditional methods of treatment. First, chemotherapy is administered with the aim of slowing the growth of malignant mesothelioma.
Next, surgery designed to physically remove a mesothelioma tumor mass is performed (extrapleural pneumonectomy is often performed as part of trimodality therapy). In the final step, postoperative radiation therapy is used to target any lingering mesothelioma cells. Although trimodality therapy has been unable to eradicate malignant mesothelioma, it has proven to be effective in prolonging patients' survival time by as much as five years (the average post-diagnosis survival time is one to two years).
New mesothelioma treatments have been researched and developed with the hope of succeeding where traditional methods have not. Mesothelioma researchers are optimistic that new mesothelioma treatment modalities will eventually prove to be successful, though they have yet to yield results that are any better than traditional methods.
New treatments for mesothelioma include:
- Development of new chemotherapy agents
- Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)
- Photodynamic therapy (PDT)
- Gene therapy
As with other cancerous diseases, the progression of mesothelioma is typically broken into stages, with the treatment options based on the stage of the disease.
The staging commonly used for mesothelioma is the Brigham staging system, and it can be described as follows:Stage 1 occurs when the tumor lies completely within the capsule of the
pleura, without swollen lymph nodes (adenopathy).
Stage 2 has the characteristics of Stage 1, except that the tumor has spread and there is presence of adenopathy. The boundaries of the tumor still allow for a resection (removal of the tumor) without cutting into other organs.
Stage 3 includes extension of the disease into the chest wall or into the heart, through the diaphragm or peritoneum, or outside the pleura to involve the lymph nodes.
Stage 4 occurs when the cancer has formed in distant organs through metastases.
Unfortunately, none of the treatment strategies have been shown to be particularly effective against the disease. As a result, doctors often focus more on alleviating discomfort. For example, pleural effusion (buildup of fluid in the pleural space) can be treated by extracting the excess fluid, a procedure known as thoracentesis.
To learn more about what to expect following diagnosis, refer to our article on mesothelioma life expectancy.
[Page updated January 2010]