Pleural mesothelioma, or mesothelioma of the tissue around the lungs, is the most common form of the disease and accounts for about three quarters of new diagnoses every year. This particular form of the cancer is often caused by the accidental inhalation of asbestos fibers, a risk factor which is compounded by both long term, consistent exposure to asbestos containing materials, and cigarette or cigar smoking. Pleural mesothelioma can develop into lung cancer if the malignant cells migrate beyond the mesothelium and attack the lung itself. In most cases, however, the primary effects of the disease result from damage to the tissues surrounding the lungs which dramatically impairs lung function.
One of the most critical factors when determining a prognosis for pleural mesothelioma patients is the stage, or progression, of the disease. Whether the cancer has developed beyond the mesothelium to other tissues, organs, or lymph nodes has a considerable bearing on survival. Patients whose malignant tumors are confined to the pleura, the cavity which the lungs inhabit, at the time of diagnosis, are often expected to survive as long as a year and a half. When the diagnosis reveals that the disease has already progressed into other tissues or organ systems, survival lengths drop drastically to around five months.
Early diagnosis of mesothelioma often improves the efficacy of treatment, increasing survival expectancy as well as quality of life. Unfortunately, early diagnosis is very rare due to the length of time the disease can take to present, and the vague, general symptoms it causes once it becomes detectable. The most common symptom of pleural mesothelioma, pain or discomfort in the chest, is identical to pneumonia’s primary symptom which can cause an incorrect diagnosis. A biopsy is the only way to definitively affirm a case of malignant mesothelioma, and should be insisted upon by any patient suffering from chest pain who has a history of exposure to asbestos.
Pleural mesothelioma is subdivided into four stages, the first of which is considered localized, and the latter three of which are considered advanced. Localized pleural mesothelioma often responds well to palliative treatment options, while the advanced stages generally signify reduced survival and a difficult treatment.
* Stage I
Malignant cells are confined to the pleura with little or no progression into the lungs, diaphragm, or mesothelial tissues surrounding the abdominal organ systems.
* Stage II
Similar to stage I, only with further development of the malignant cells or tumor, and progression into the lymph nodes.
* Stage III
Progression beyond the pleura into the chest wall, heart, diaphragm, peritoneum (the mesothelial tissues of the abdomen), and in some cases further lymph node development.
* Stage IV
Spread of the cancer to multiple sites in the body distant from the pleura, often characterized by organ failure.
Pleural mesothelioma is terminal. Its treatment options are generally palliative, meaning they aim to improve quality of life and length of survival with the disease. Early diagnosis, which is far more likely when patients are well informed, proactive, and aware of any asbestos exposure in their past, is the best way to improve survival length and ensure a better response to treatment.
Learn more about treating pleural mesothelioma.