There is no cure for mesothelioma but long-term survivors prove there are no boundaries for hope. Using a combination of traditional medicine, alternative treatments and groundbreaking clinical trials, many patients have proven living with the disease, and a possible cure, is a reality.
Mesothelioma, like other forms of cancer, is categorized and classified by severity and extent of the disease process, called staging. The stages range from stage I, which is the least severe and often most responsible to curative treatments, to stage IV, which is the most severe and open mostly to palliative care treatments.
Mesothelioma specialists determine the stage of the disease after reviewing medical tests, such as CT scans, biopsies and MRIs. Once a stage is determined, medical teams are able to establish a treatment regimen. However, most cases of mesothelioma are not diagnosed until stages III or IV, which can limit a patient’s treatment options.
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Overall, doctors use one of three staging systems for pleural mesothelioma: TNM, Brigham and Butchart. Since there are no formal staging systems for peritoneal, pericardial and testicular mesothelioma, they also follow one of the three staging systems:
The American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) established the TNM staging system to describe the three primary components to a cancer diagnosis – tumor size, lymph node involvement and metastasis. TNM is the most widely used staging system for all cancers and the primary staging system used for pleural mesothelioma.
For TNM, each letter is paired with a number to describe the spread of the disease, as follows:
Created by famed mesothelioma specialist Dr. David Sugarbaker, the Brigham staging system is used for lung cancer and pleural mesothelioma, with the main focus on surgical treatment options. Early stages of the Brigham system (stages I and II) describe cancerous tumors that can be surgically resected, while stages III and IV represent advanced disease stages that cannot be treated surgically.
Sugarbaker, who was the chief of thoracic surgery at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston when he created the system, pioneered the extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) as a curative pleural mesothelioma treatment.
Developed in 1976, the Butchart system is the oldest cancer staging system that was created specifically for pleural mesothelioma to identify patients who are eligible for aggressive treatments.
The Butchart system is limited because it was created based on data from just 29 patients who underwent EPP procedures before modern imaging tests, such as MRIs and CT scans, were widely used.
The Butchart system is primarily limited to addressing the spread of the disease and how it can be impacted by aggressive treatments, as follows:
While each staging system has variations that describe the spread of the disease, they are overall similar in specific ways: Early stage mesothelioma patients (stages I and II) have more treatment options than later stage patients (stages III and IV). An earlier-stage diagnosis provides patients with better and more varied possibilities for long-term survival.
Anyone who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma should seek medical attention from a mesothelioma specialist who can determine the most appropriate treatment for the disease stage. Contact us for more information today.
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