stage III mesothelioma is considered to be very advanced, indicating that the cancer has spread from its point of origin to nearby tissues and organs.
Mesothelioma is a rare and often deadly form of cancer caused by long-term exposure to asbestos. The asbestos materials become trapped in the lining of the lungs and the surrounding tissues, getting into the cells themselves and causing them to overproduce, forming a cancerous tumor. More than 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year. When doctors diagnose a patient with malignant mesothelioma, they must run a series of tests to make sure the diagnosis is correct. Following a diagnosis, the results from these tests—as well as some additional tests – will be used in the staging process. Staging is the process of determining how far the cancer has progressed and how advanced it is. All cancer staging systems use four stages: stage I is the least advanced stage, while stage IV is the most advanced.
No matter which staging system is being used, stage III mesothelioma is considered to be very advanced. Stage III indicates a cancer that has spread from its point of origin to nearby tissues and organs. For mesothelioma patients, this means that the malignant cells have already spread to the chest wall, esophagus and the lymph nodes on one part of the chest from stage II. Stage III mesothelioma has spread even further, penetrating the diaphragm that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity, and has spread to the tissues of the abdomen, also called the peritoneal cavity. The cancer may have also spread to the lymph nodes throughout the body, not just in the chest. This makes the cancer much harder to operate on, and enables the cancer to spread even faster through the lymph nodes.
Diagnosing Stage III Mesothelioma
Improper staging or diagnosis at stage III can make a big difference in how the cancer is treated. Stage III mesothelioma can easily progress to stage IV, the most deadly stage, if left untreated. Unfortunately, mesothelioma is a slowly progressing form of cancer, and signs and symptoms may not begin to show or become noticeable until stage III. Most mesothelioma patients are diagnosed with the cancer decades after exposure, long after the cancer has had time to metastasize and develop to this very advanced stage.
Stage III Mesothelioma Treatments
If your doctor is using the Brigham staging system, he or she will be determining if the tumor is able to be operated on. Stage III in the Brigham system signals that the tumor or tumors are inoperable. Unfortunately, the cancer cannot be surgically removed, because the cancerous cells have spread too much and in too many places for surgery to be effective. The cells may be in areas that are inoperable or would put the patient at too much risk. Even if surgery were an option, it would not be effective, as the lymph nodes are already affected and could circulate the cancer cells throughout affected area.
Treatment options for stage III mesothelioma are limited. While traditional methods such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy are usually used to shrink the tumor and kill cancer cells, other options available help to ease the pain and increase quality of life. Mesothelioma causes fluid buildup in the lungs, so a patient may undergo a procedure to remove the fluid and make breathing easier and less painful. If the chemotherapy and radiation have effectively shrunk the tumor, surgery may be an option in the future.