Mesothelioma is an incurable, rare, and aggressive cancer caused by asbestos exposure. It affects the linings around the organs in the chest and abdomen, known as the mesothelial linings, but it does not stay in one spot for long. Mesothelioma is known to spread (metastasize) quickly, sometimes in a matter of weeks, and once it begins to spread, it becomes much more difficult to manage.
Understanding the progression of the disease and its stages can help patients and their care teams recognize possible symptoms and make informed decisions on their care.
Pleural Mesothelioma Metastasis
Where mesothelioma spreads can vary depending on the type of mesothelioma. Pleural mesothelioma infects the lining of the lungs, known as the pleura, and accounts for about 80 percent of mesothelioma cases. Because tumors in the pleura are so close to the lungs, they can easily spread there first. Tumors typically remain concentrated on one side of the body in earlier stages, and patients with mesothelioma tumors in one lung may have part or all of the lung removed in an extrapleural pneumonectomy surgical procedure. Tumors are harder to reach if they spread in the other direction toward the chest wall and can begin to invade the diaphragm or the pericardium lining the heart.
If pleural mesothelioma tumors spread into the lymph nodes in the chest, they can travel through the lymphatic system to distant areas of the body. The lymphatic system of vessels regulates immune responses, transports fat throughout the body, and helps with tissue drainage. Spreading through the lymph nodes or, in some cases, through the blood stream can cause tumors to appear in other organs, bones, or even the central nervous system. The liver is a common target for later-stage mesothelioma tumors, as are the adrenal glands, the kidneys, and less frequently, the brain. In stage 4 of the disease, tumors can also spread upward to the esophagus, tongue, or thyroid gland.
Peritoneal and Pericardial Mesothelioma
Peritoneal mesothelioma accounts for almost all of the remaining 20 percent of cases and infects the peritoneum, or the mesothelial lining of the stomach and abdomen. The abdomen is somewhat enclosed, preventing peritoneal mesothelioma from spreading too far, but there are a number of critical organs in that area that can be infected, including the stomach itself. The liver, intestines, kidneys, and pancreas are all concentrated in that area and could be at risk if tumors start to spread. Some organs, such as the spleen or gallbladder, can be removed if they develop tumors. Tumors that do make it out of the abdomen can target other critical areas, such as the lungs, heart, or brain.
Pericardial mesothelioma, infecting the sac around the heart, is extremely rare, with most patients only receiving a diagnosis posthumously. Pericardial mesothelioma may develop as a secondary cancer in a patient who has tumors growing elsewhere. When pericardial mesothelioma metastasizes, it can target the liver, lungs, chest wall, or other mesothelial linings. If it spreads into the heart and pulmonary artery, it can easily travel to other areas of the body.
The spread of tumors into different areas of the body is one way that physicians measure the progression of the disease. In stages 1 and 2, tumors remain mostly localized in their area of origin. Stage 3 is usually characterized by some spread through the lymph nodes or blood stream, though is still mostly concentrated on one side of the body. In stage 4, tumors have spread even further on both sides of the body and have grown larger.
The stage of the disease has a significant impact on how mesothelioma is treated, with fewer treatment options available in later stages.
Philadelphia Mesothelioma Attorneys at Shein Law Can Advocate on Your Behalf
If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, lung cancer, or another asbestos disease, consult with one of our Philadelphia mesothelioma attorneys at Shein Law. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients across Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Call 877-743-4652 or complete our online form to discuss your case.