Stage 4 Mesothelioma: Understanding the Diagnosis

Stage 4 mesothelioma is considered the most advanced and serious form of the disease. For patients in this stage, cancer cells have metastasized-or spread-well beyond the point of origin, and the illness is no longer considered treatable by curative measures. To understand this diagnosis, refer to the question and answer section featured below.

Question: How long can mesothelioma patients in stage 4 expect to survive?

Answer: The mesothelioma life expectancy at stage 4 is poor. Because the cancer is inoperable and not considered to be treatable by any other known conventional measures, patients are deemed terminal at the point of diagnosis. The median length of survival for stage 4 mesothelioma is 12 months, but many patients live less than a year post-diagnosis. As treatment methods improve, cancer specialists have hope for treating even the most advanced stage of the disease; but at this time, patients in this phase are not expected to be eligible for remission.

Question: How does mesothelioma progress to stage 4, and why is it not caught sooner?

Answer: There are three basic mechanisms by which cancer can spread through the body: the lymphatic system, the bloodstream and direct tissue-to-tissue contact. Cancer that has reached the most advanced diagnostic stage is determined to be present in multiple organs on either one or both sides of the body and has often reached even organs that are anatomically distant from the point of origin. Some of the most commonly affected organs in which malignant cells are found after metastasis has occurred include the brain, spine and thyroid gland.

Unfortunately, mesothelioma often goes undiagnosed in its early stages. This is partially due to the unusually long latency period of the disease. Another diagnostic challenge is the ambiguity of its primary symptoms, which often mimic other widespread and far less serious conditions like the common cold. Finally, the lack of physician familiarity with the illness and a significant absence of reliable screening methods make mesothelioma a difficult condition to detect early on in its presentation.

Question: What treatment methods are available to patients diagnosed with stage 4 mesothelioma?

Answer: Stage 4 patients are typically administered one or more of the same forms of mesothelioma treatment used for other stages of the illness-including surgery, chemo and radiation therapy. The difference is that late-stage patients receive one or more of these conventional methods with the intention of palliative-also sometimes called supportive-care, rather than as a curative measure.

Palliative care is designed to increase patient comfort levels and improve the quality of life for whatever time is remaining; it is often administered in a hospice setting. Other palliative techniques that may be prescribed for late-stage mesothelioma patients include pain medication and various forms of respiratory or oxygen therapies.

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