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4 Stages of Mesothelioma

Legally Reviewed by Joseph P. Williams on March 26, 2022

Like all forms of cancer, mesothelioma is classified into stages at the time of its diagnosis. Staging is a very important part of cancer diagnosis, as it represents the size of the malignant tumors and whether or not the cancer has spread to other parts of the body (metastasized). The stage of cancer can determine things such as the patient’s prognosis, life expectancy and options to treat the disease. Learn more about the four stages of mesothelioma and what each means.

What Are the Four Stages of Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma can be broken down into four stages. As is the case with all types of cancer, the earlier the stage, the better the patient’s prognosis. Early stages mean that the cancer has not yet metastasized and that multiple treatment options are generally available for a more favorable prognosis. When diagnosing mesothelioma, an oncologist will use x-rays, tissue biopsies and other tests to determine the stage of the cancer.

Stage I

Stage I mesothelioma means that the cancer has not spread from its origin; it is still localized to a single location. This location will vary based on the type of mesothelioma. For example, Stage I pleural mesothelioma (the most common type of mesothelioma) means that the tumor is localized to the membrane that lines the lungs (the pleura). Stage I mesothelioma comes with the most positive prognosis. 

Although there is no known cure for mesothelioma, Stage I patients are typically eligible for multiple treatment options that can help them live longer and more comfortably. The average life expectancy for a patient who is diagnosed with Stage I pleural mesothelioma is about 22 months. Unfortunately, mesothelioma is not often diagnosed in Stage I due to little to no noticeable symptoms this early.

Stage II

With Stage II mesothelioma, the cancer has spread to some nearby organs, such as the lungs or diaphragm with pleural mesothelioma. It may have also reached the lymph nodes, but there is no distant spreading to other parts of the body. Surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible is generally an option for Stage II mesothelioma patients, along with chemotherapy and radiation therapy to kill any remaining cancer cells. The median life expectancy for a patient with Stage II pleural mesothelioma is 20 months.

Stage III

At Stage III, mesothelioma cancer cells are found in organs and areas that are farther away from where the cancer originated. With pleural mesothelioma, for instance, cancer may exist in nearby lymph nodes as well as the chest wall, lungs and abdomen. Stage III mesothelioma often shows more pronounced signs and symptoms, making it a common stage at the time of diagnosis. Patients with Stage III pleural mesothelioma are often still eligible for surgery and other life-extending treatments, and the average life expectancy is about 18 months.

Stage IV

The most advanced stage of mesothelioma, Stage IV, means that the cancer has metastasized throughout the body and may have reached the bones or multiple organs. This is the most difficult stage to treat, as the patient may no longer be a candidate for surgery and other treatment options. However, palliative treatments may still be available to improve the patient’s comfort and quality of life. The average lifespan for someone who is diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma at Stage IV is about 15 months.

What Happens After Mesothelioma Diagnosis?

Once a patient has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, a tailored treatment plan will go into effect. Every patient is unique. One person’s mesothelioma diagnosis or life expectancy may not be indicative of yours. A wide variety of factors can impact a patient’s prognosis for the future, not just the stage of the cancer’s progression. These factors include the type of mesothelioma, location of the tumor(s), available treatment options and the patient’s overall health. Work with a mesothelioma specialist for more detailed information about your specific diagnosis.

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