List of items doctors look for to determine stage 1 mesothelioma.
What is Stage 1 Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a rare yet deadly cancer that is largely caused by exposure to asbestos.  Exposure can occur in various ways depending on occupation or contact with asbestos products. People working within construction and manufacturing currently make up 35.5% of mesothelioma diagnoses in the United States. The cancer primarily forms in the lungs and/or abdomen before eventually spreading throughout the body. In stage 1 mesothelioma, the cancer is in its smallest form, typically affecting the lungs and its tissue lining first. The cancer will begin to spread to the lymph nodes and other organs as it progresses to later stages.

The standard stages for diagnosing mesothelioma are stage 1, stage 2, stage 3, and stage 4. These stages are used to define how progressed a person is with their mesothelioma diagnosis. Beginning at the least severe and smallest size of cancer with stage 1 through to stage 4, where cancer has spread throughout the body. There are two sub-stages for stage 1, 1A, and 1B. A person can be diagnosed with stages 1A or 1B mesothelioma, depending on where the cancer is. It can be in either the pleural lining or lymph nodes, yet it could still be localized enough to be resected with surgery or reduced with other forms of treatment.

1A Mesothelioma Staging 

In stage 1A, mesothelioma cancer cells become present outside the pleural lining, typically on one side of the lung. This is the first of four mesothelioma stages. The cancer has affected the body in a localized area, which allows doctors the widest variety of treatment options for their patients. Surgery during 1A is a strong option before the cancer spreads to more areas of the body. Other treatment options include chemotherapy, radiation, and clinical trial participation. Stage 1A mesothelioma is typically diagnosed through various diagnostic methods, including imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans, and PET scans.

1B Mesothelioma Staging

Mesothelioma cancer in stage 1B is still localized to one area of the lung, particularly inside the pleural lining. Since 1A, cancer has continued to grow and now has infiltrated the lining and begun to take shape around the diaphragm and the lungs. Cancer cells have yet to spread to other parts of the body, leaving surgery on the table to resect the infected areas. Once the mesothelioma cancer has moved beyond the inner lining, a person has reached stage 2. Similar to stage 1A, diagnostic methods like imaging tests (X-rays, CT scans, PET scans) are employed to identify the extent of the mesothelioma tumor growth and invasion.

What are the Early Warning Signs of Mesothelioma?

The beginning stages of diagnosis mean that stage 1 mesothelioma symptoms are less severe. Since symptoms aren’t unique and may be warning signs of other diseases, it allows mesothelioma to go undetected for longer. Potential early-stage symptoms that are warning signs of mesothelioma include:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Sharp stabbing pressure
  • Weakness
  • Fever

These symptoms can occur separately or together. If you notice your symptoms are lining up with stage 1 mesothelioma, seek advice from a medical doctor asap. Those with mesothelioma typically experience breathing or chest pain issues, and they only worsen as the cancer progresses. Mesothelioma is also so rare and misunderstood that medical doctors sometimes misdiagnose it as another respiratory disease.

What are the First Mesothelioma Signs?

The signs of mesothelioma can begin with some of the same symptoms mentioned above but can vary from person to person, depending on many factors. Other indications of mesothelioma can include painful, bloody coughing, sudden weight loss, and unusual lumps under the skin. These symptoms can last throughout a person’s battle with mesothelioma and may worsen with time too.

Patients may go through the process of metastasis, which occurs when cancer cells begin to multiply and spread throughout the body. As this happens, a person’s symptoms will continue to grow and some complications may arise. Since mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure, and one way to be exposed is through inhaling its particles, the lungs suffer a lot the most from this type of cancer. Breathing difficulties, chest pain, and fluid build-up can occur and strain a patient’s capabilities which could lead to even worse health.

Is There a way to Determine Early Mesothelioma?

Similar to diagnosing other cancers, there are a few options to diagnose mesothelioma. It is important to determine whether a person has mesothelioma early since there are more options for treatment in stage 1 than in stage 4. Diagnosing mesothelioma in its early stages isn’t that common, though. Symptoms of the cancer aren’t always noticeable until around stage 3 mesothelioma. The cancer can sometimes stay hidden in a person for years or decades, and unfortunately, that allows it to grow beyond stage 1. If mesothelioma were diagnosed in stage 1, the testing of fluid build-up in the lungs and conducting a biopsy of tissue samples are the most reliable options available.

Testing Fluid Buildup in Lungs

During the early stages of mesothelioma, one of the side effects or symptoms can include fluid building up in your lungs. This fluid can be extracted and tested for certain characteristics of mesothelioma, often confused with lung cancer. This process is called thoracentesis. This test begins with the person undergoing the procedure being numbed around the area of the incision. Then a needle is inserted into the lung and takes a sample of the fluid. The fluid removed will be analyzed for cancer cells.

The analysis can take 1 to 2 weeks to process. If your healthcare professional hasn’t reached out to you about results in 3 weeks, then follow up with them. This procedure alone usually doesn’t determine a person’s diagnosis, but it could be in combination with a biopsy.

Biopsy of Tissues 

A biopsy is regularly used in diagnosing mesothelioma and many other cancers and diseases. For mesothelioma, it is no different. This procedure consists of a body tissue sample being removed from the suspected area of disease, then tested in a laboratory. When looking for mesothelioma, a portion of a person’s tissue will typically be removed from the abdomen. This can be done surgically or with a thoracoscopy, a thin tube inserted into the body to collect the tissue sample. A thoracoscopy is less invasive and is the primary method that is used. After the samples have been collected, a pathologist will analyze the tissues to see if there are cancer cells present. This process can take anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks but can vary at different hospitals, and you should ask your healthcare provider when to expect the results.

How Long can you Live with Stage 1 Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a fast, aggressive cancer that can invade the body quickly. Although the cancer in stage 1 is localized, the prognosis of surviving mesothelioma is relatively low. Those who are in stage 1, and remain there, have a 24% survival rate over the next 5 years.

Keeping the cancer to one area of the body is important for long-term survival. Although, this is easier said than done. A person’s prognosis goes down significantly in stages 3 and 4 when the cancer begins to spread to the lymph nodes and other organs. What type of mesothelioma someone has can also determine your prognosis. The location of the cancer, either lungs, abdomen, heart, or testicles, determines which form of mesothelioma a person can have.

Is Stage 1 Mesothelioma Curable?

Mesothelioma currently doesn’t have a cure, but there are many options for treatment in stage 1. There are multiple factors that contribute to your likelihood of surviving mesothelioma. Age, race, stage of cancer, treatment, and more are all taken into account when a doctor is putting together a treatment plan.

Since mesothelioma can sometimes go undetected in a person for decades, this can push the diagnosis age for some into their 70s. The relative health of a person and how vigorous of a treatment plan their body can handle steers the way for their options, and if they’re in later life, they may not be well enough for some options. Treatments for stage 1 mesothelioma could include chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and clinical trials. Each of these comes with its own potential side effects ranging from blood clots, to fluid build-up, or pneumonia, and infections.

Stage 1 Chemotherapy Options

Chemotherapy for mesothelioma treatment is frequently used either by itself or in combination with other therapies. Pemetrexed and cisplatin are two common chemotherapy drugs given to mesothelioma patients. The process of starting your first chemotherapy cycle, or the period of time in which a drug is administered, can change from person to person depending on what your doctor sees fit.

A doctor may advise you to do two cycles of chemotherapy, occurring once every 21 days. The drugs will be given through an IV needle over the course of several hours. If your doctors don’t see any reduction in cancer after your initial cycles, they may have you do more or change the chemotherapy medications being used. There is also the option of doctors injecting the drugs straight into the area of infection, but this is less common.

Stage 1 Radiation Therapy

There are two methods of using radiation for mesothelioma. One is after surgery to kill any residual cancer cells left behind from the area which was removed. Another is using treatment as a palliative care option to reduce the effects and pain connected to symptoms. The process of using radiation therapy for mesothelioma involves high-energy X-rays that are targeting and killing cancer cells. External beam radiation therapy (EBRT) and brachytherapy are two divisions of this therapy used in the treatment of mesothelioma. EBRT sends radiation through the body on the outside to kill diseased cells. In the process, some healthy cells can be killed as well since this form of radiation doesn’t target specific cells. Brachytherapy involves putting an object of radiation inside the body near the place of infection. This option is used significantly less than EBRT for mesothelioma.

Stage 1 Surgery Options

Surgery for stage 1 mesothelioma patients is often used because the infection area is localized around one part of the lung. As the cancer grows outside the lungs and throughout the body, surgery becomes less and less viable for a number of different reasons. Surgery options in stage 1 are for the purpose of potentially curing the person with mesothelioma. Although there is no known cure for this cancer, removing all of the infected areas could result in a curative result.

Extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) and pleurectomy/decortication (P/D) are two mesothelioma surgery options. An EPP involved removing the lung and chest lining on the side of the cancer. This surgery can be extremely dangerous and is typically reserved for patients that are in good health and for which doctors believe they could see a curative result. A P/D removes the chest lining and coating around both lungs. This smaller surgery option can still achieve results and benefit the patient.

Stage 1 Clinical Trails

Clinical trials are aimed at finding new curative and palliative therapies for those suffering from mesothelioma. They are a great option for those who are looking to try different, new treatments aside from the traditional route of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgeries. New clinical trials come every year, looking to find patients around the U.S. who fit their trial requirements. Your doctors and nurses should be able to help you locate a clinical trial near you.

What to do After a Stage 1 Diagnosis?

After receiving a stage 1 mesothelioma diagnosis, life can feel overwhelming as you are unsure where to start or who to trust. You will have questions regarding where to receive treatment, support, and beyond that, which is the best way of going about finding those answers. That’s where we can help. First, find out whether you are eligible for legal action and let us know if you have received a mesothelioma diagnosis. Consider reaching out to mesothelioma support groups and organizations that can provide valuable information, emotional support, and connections with others going through similar experiences in the meantime. These resources can offer guidance on managing symptoms, coping strategies, and access to clinical trials or innovative treatment options that may be available. You don’t have to go through this alone.