Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that develops from the cells in the mesothelium, which are a layer of tissue that lines the chest and abdomen. The cancer usually starts in the pleura, which is a thin membrane around the lungs but can also develop in other parts of the body.
Stage 4 mesothelioma is the most advanced stage of mesothelioma. At this stage, treatment is usually about helping to make a person comfortable and prolonging their life as long as possible.
Stages of Mesothelioma
There are four stages of mesothelioma:
- Stage 1: Limited tumor growth with no spread to other parts of the body.
- Stage 2: Tumor growth and spread to other parts of the body, but not outside the chest cavity.
- Stage 3: Tumor growth and spread to other parts of the body, including outside the chest cavity.
- Stage 4: Advanced tumor growth and spread throughout the body.
The TNM Staging System
There are several different ways of staging mesothelioma, but the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) TNM system is the leading and most commonly used staging system. This staging system is based on three key pieces of information:
- T: the size and location of the primary mesothelioma tumor
- N: if the mesothelioma cells have spread to nearby lymph nodes
- M: if the cancer cells have spread (metastasized) through the body
Numbers and letters may be added to the TNM denotations to provide additional information. These details are combined to determine which stage of mesothelioma a person has.
What Causes Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and abdomen. It is caused by exposure to asbestos. The fibers from asbestos products can become trapped in lung tissues, leading to inflammation and scarring. This can eventually lead to mesothelioma.
In the United States, doctors diagnose around 3,000 new cases each year. Medical experts estimate that there will be 300,000 cases of mesothelioma before the year 2030.
Who is at Risk?
The risk of mesothelioma increases with the amount of time spent being exposed to asbestos. This is why people who work in construction, shipyards, power plants, and other jobs where they were regularly exposed to asbestos are at a higher risk for this disease.
People who lived or worked in buildings that contained asbestos are also at a higher risk of developing mesothelioma.
Stage 4 mesothelioma is the most severe stage of the disease. The symptoms are difficult to distinguish from other lung diseases, so it is important to see a doctor if you think you may have this condition.
Symptoms may include:
- abdominal pain
- abdominal swelling
- chest pain
- decreased appetite
- difficulty swallowing
- fluid build-up in the abdomen (ascites)
- fluid buildup (effusion) in the lung
- heart murmur
- irregular bowel movements
- irregular heart rhythm
- lumps under the skin on the chest
- nausea or vomiting
- night sweats
- pain in the side of the chest or lower back
- shortness of breath
- swelling of the face and arms
- weight loss without trying
Four main treatments for stage 4 mesothelioma include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, and immunotherapy.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is the treatment of cancer by using drugs that kill cancer cells. It is often used in combination with other treatments like radiation therapy or surgery.
- Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy is a form of cancer treatment where high-energy waves and particles are used to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.
- Surgery: Surgery can be done to remove the tumor or part of the lung that has been affected by mesothelioma and also to remove nearby lymph nodes for examination (biopsy). For Stage 4 mesothelioma, surgery may be unsuccessful as the tumor has usually spread too much to be removed.
- Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy stimulates or boosts the body’s natural defenses against disease or infection in order to fight cancer cells. For instance, immunotherapy might include the infusion of T-cells from a donor that are programmed to attack cancer cells.
Pain management may also be used to improve the patient’s quality of life.
The life expectancy for Stage 4 Mesothelioma depends on the type and how advanced it is when diagnosed. In general, people with Stage 4 Mesothelioma have a life expectancy of less than one year from diagnosis.
Around 30 out of 100 people (30%) will survive their cancer for 1 year or more after they are diagnosed at stage 4, according to statistics from Cancer Research UK.
When to Contact a Doctor
If you have symptoms of mesothelioma, you should see a doctor right away. You may have difficulty breathing, chest pain, or have trouble swallowing. Other symptoms of stage 4 mesothelioma are coughing up blood or having fluid in your lungs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Read on to find out the answers to some commonly asked questions regarding Stage 4 Mesothelioma.
What is the prognosis for stage 4 mesothelioma?
The prognosis for stage 4 mesothelioma depends on the patient’s age, overall health, and type of cancer. For example, patients who are younger and have a better prognosis may live for many years with stage 4 mesothelioma.
Is Stage 4 mesothelioma curable?
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that is caused by exposure to asbestos. The spread of cancer can be slowed with surgery if it is diagnosed in its early stages. However, mesothelioma has a high rate of recurrence, and there are no treatments or cures for it.
What is the main cause of mesothelioma?
The cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, a mineral that is found in many building materials and insulation.
What happens in the final stages of mesothelioma?
The final stage of mesothelioma is usually marked by complications and pain. It is difficult to predict how long someone with this condition will live. Treatment in this stage will focus on relieving that pain and making the patient as comfortable as possible.
How long do you live after being diagnosed with mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that is usually caused by long-term exposure to asbestos. It affects the lining of the lungs and chest cavity, and it can cause serious health problems. The prognosis for mesothelioma is not good. The average life expectancy for someone who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma is 4 to 18 months, but that depends on which stage they are at the time of diagnosis.