Mesothelioma: Stage 1
As with other types of cancer, mesothelioma is categorized into stages, with the earlier stages being less severe and more susceptible to treatment options. There is currently no cure for mesothelioma, but by diagnosing and staging cancer, doctors can do their best to address the symptoms to improve quality of life.
Stage 1 Mesothelioma Characteristics
Stage 1 mesothelioma has two different parts: 1A and 1B.
In 1A, very small tumors begin developing on the lining of the lungs. There used to be a distinction between T1a and T1b which determined whether there were tiny tumors on both lining layers of the lungs, or just on one layer. There is no longer this specific distinction, as it has been determined that the distinction does not matter in terms of staging or treatment.
In mesothelioma stage 1B, the cancerous cells or tumors begin spreading to other tissue near the pleural lining. This could mean the cancer is spreading to other areas of the lungs and no longer staying contained in the lining of the lungs. This can lead to further complications and be indicative of a more aggressive cancer that is prone to spreading.
This is only stage 1 if the cancer has only spread within the tissue and not to surrounding organs or lymph nodes.
Signs and Symptoms of Mesothelioma
Doctors may also discover mesothelioma incidentally during an X-ray or CT scan.
Unless a doctor finds mesothelioma in one of those ways, it is likely that patients will not even know they have it at this early stage. At this point, there are not symptoms that are severe enough to seek medical attention and most people will likely brush off those symptoms as something else if they even notice them at all.
Mesothelioma symptoms can be mistaken for illnesses like the flu or pneumonia, which are much more common and far less serious than mesothelioma. Fluid in the lining of the lungs can begin to cause more symptoms to arise.
As the tumors on the pleural lining grow larger, they can begin to constrict the lungs and cause pain, difficulty breathing, or the possibility of a chronic cough. These more severe symptoms usually begin as the mesothelioma enters stages 2 and 3.
Can Stage 1 Mesothelioma Be Cured?
There is currently no known cure for any stage of mesothelioma, but medical researchers are working towards one. Fortunately, finding mesothelioma in the early stages does increase the number of treatment options.
Finding mesothelioma in stage 1 or 2 is definitely more beneficial than discovering the cancer at later stages that are more difficult to treat. If patients are diagnosed early enough, they may qualify for surgery to remove the cancer, which greatly increases the chances of remission.
The different treatment options include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and surgery. Surgery is typically the most beneficial form of treatment, giving patients a better chance at improving and extending their life expectancy and prognosis.
Life Expectancy and Survival Rate
Being diagnosed with Stage 1 mesothelioma gives the patients a much better prognosis compared to those who are not diagnosed until later when the mesothelioma has progressed to stages 2, 3 or even 4.
For patients who have been diagnosed with stage 1 mesothelioma, about 41-46% of patients survive two years and about 18% of those survive more than five years after diagnosis. When compared to the life expectancy of stage 4 patients which is less than a year, this is a promising prognosis.
Life expectancy varies from patient to patient, though, and is dependent upon several factors including the overall health of the patient to begin with, the age of the patient, the cancer’s cell type, and the stage of the mesothelioma.
A benefit of finding mesothelioma at stage 1 is that surgery is almost always an option due to the localized nature of the cancer at this stage. Surgery can drastically improve the chance of extending life expectancy past five years.
There are two main options for surgery at this stage. The first is removing the affected tissue and lining around the lungs and the second option includes removal of the lung as well. Both of these are major surgeries and your doctor will talk to you about all the risks and options.
Another form of treatment is chemotherapy. There are two chemotherapy drugs that are the most common when treating mesothelioma: pemetrexed and cisplatin.
Some patients will undergo chemotherapy only, but others will have chemotherapy combined with surgery for maximum outcomes. This is a tough treatment regimen and will require an otherwise healthy individual.
Other treatment options include radiation therapy which can be difficult because it targets tumors in an area so close to vital organs. When performed well, it can help improve the survival rates of patients.
Clinical trials may also provide another treatment option for patients diagnosed in stage 1 mesothelioma. As we mentioned before, medical researchers are working on new treatment options continually. Sometimes, patients in the early stages of mesothelioma can be included in clinical trials, which may be a good option.
Living With Stage 1 Mesothelioma
If you are living with stage 1 mesothelioma, the good news is that it was caught early. At this stage of the cancer, there are several treatment options available to you.