Stage 3 of pleural mesothelioma is considered an advanced stage. During stage 3, tumors have begun spreading farther and faster throughout the body. Initial treatments include chemotherapy and radiation therapy, but many stage 3 mesothelioma patients are still eligible for surgery.
What Is Stage 3 Pleural Mesothelioma?
In stage 3 of pleural mesothelioma, tumors remain on one side of the chest, but they may also be present in the diaphragm, pleural lining, and the lining of the heart.
The difference between stage 2 and stage 3 of pleural mesothelioma is lymph node involvement. Like all cancers, mesothelioma spreads through the lymph system, so it is common to have nodes involved at this stage.
Mesothelioma Stage 3 Symptoms
As pleural mesothelioma progresses into more advanced stages, symptoms begin to worsen. Some patients hardly notice their symptoms in the first two stages. But stage 3 patients are likely to start noticing new symptoms, which become worse as tumors and cancer cells spread.
Tumors can create pressure in the chest, making it more difficult to breathe. Mesothelioma cells spreading to lymph nodes forces additional pressure onto the immune system. The body may not process nutrients as easily, which can cause fatigue or a lack of appetite.
Symptoms of stage 3 pleural mesothelioma include:
- Chest pain
- Loss of appetite
- Pain when breathing
- Pleural effusions (fluid buildup)
- Weight loss
Your doctor can treat many of these symptoms. Palliative care (symptom management) is common for all stages of mesothelioma. Medications are commonly prescribed for each stage.
In stage 3 of pleural mesothelioma, your doctor might recommend draining fluid in your chest, which can help you breathe easier. During this procedure, doctors place a needle or small tube in the pleural space to remove the fluid; you’ll be under anesthetic during this kind of procedure.
Another procedure for pleural effusions is pleurodesis. This seals the area between the pleural linings to prevent fluid buildup.
Diagnosing Stage 3 Mesothelioma
Imaging tests are the first step of diagnosis. An X-ray may show a thickening of the pleural lining or fluid within the pleural space. Many patients will have a CT or MRI scan to look for lymph node involvement.
PET scans of the chest and abdomen can show areas of increased radioactive uptake in areas where cancer cells are located.
Sometimes doctors find cancer in the lymph nodes without evidence elsewhere in the body. This still classifies as stage 3 of the disease. The cancer may have spread to nearby organs, including cartilage, muscle, and the lining of the chest wall. There may be tumors in the fatty areas between the lobes of the lung and the pericardial sac.
Veterans may be diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma at stage 3 because they were not aware of their symptoms sooner. At first, some veterans with mesothelioma don’t attribute their symptoms to anything serious.
Many veterans might think their shortness of breath is related to smoking, even if they quit years ago. Additionally, non-smoking veterans may assume their symptoms are signs of aging rather than a rare form of cancer.
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The TNM Staging System for Stage 3 Mesothelioma
There are different staging systems for pleural mesothelioma. Most doctors agree on the TNM system for staging mesothelioma. TNM is short for “tumor, node, and metastasis.” This system is a detailed way to describe how far, and to what degree, your disease has spread.
Here’s how to define each group of the TNM staging system:
- (T) Tumor: Doctors consider how far the original tumor has grown and spread into nearby tissue. A rating of T1 indicates the tumor is on one side of the chest in the pleural lining. T4 describes tumors that have spread throughout the chest.
- (N) Node: Mesothelioma can spread through the lymph system. An N1 rating means doctors found cancer in nodes within the lung on the same side of the body as the tumor. N3 is the highest rating for this group. Cancer found on the opposite side of the body equals an N3 rating.
- (M) Metastasis: This group has either M0 or M1. Doctors either found mesothelioma in distant organs (M1) or they didn’t (M0).
After a doctor rates each group, they can determine your disease stage.
Patients with stage 3 mesothelioma can have the following ratings for each group:
- T1 to T3
- N0 to N2
Each combination of these groups indicates stage 3 pleural mesothelioma and reveals how the cancer has spread.
- A patient with T2, N2, M0 typically has mesothelioma in both linings of the lung. The cancer is also found in the diaphragm and chest lymph nodes.
- A patient with T3, N0, M0 has tumors deeper in the layers of the chest but no lymph node involvement.
The details of your diagnosis are important for determining the best treatment for you. It can help doctors decide whether mesothelioma surgery will help or hurt you.
There is one thing in common for each combination of the TNM system for stage 3 mesothelioma. Aggressive treatment is still possible because mesothelioma cells still haven’t spread too far yet.
Treatment for Stage 3 Mesothelioma
Patients with stage 3 pleural mesothelioma may or may not qualify for major surgery. Two common types of surgery for qualifying patients are a extrapleural pneumonectomy and a pleurectomy with decortication. These surgeries will remove much of the cancer, but radiation therapy and chemotherapy are still required to kill off mesothelioma cells that were not removed during surgery.
Aggressive treatments like surgery are your best chance of living a longer life. If your doctor doesn’t think surgery is right for you, you can get a second opinion. Your doctor may even recommend a colleague who can run independent diagnostics.
In the past, doctors found surgery too risky for stage 3 pleural mesothelioma patients, but it has become much more common today. The lung-sparing P/D surgery is often favored by specialists. “The role for lung-sparing surgery is unclear but this [study] demonstrates that it is an option, even for advanced cases,” said the authors of a study evaluating aggressive treatment in stage 3 and 4 mesothelioma patients.
As you prepare for an upcoming visit with an oncologist, it would be helpful to gather a list of all your questions ahead of time. Download our Free Checklist of 14 Questions to review during your doctor's appointment.
Stage 3 Mesothelioma Prognosis
The median stage 3 mesothelioma life expectancy is about 16 months.
As far as stage 3 mesothelioma survival rates, data shows 40% of patients are still alive after 1 year, and 4% of patients are still alive after 5 years.
A study published in 2016 reported on P/D surgery with photodynamic therapy in late-stage mesothelioma patients. Stage 3 patients without mesothelioma in their lymph nodes had a median survival of 7.3 years. The group of patients was evaluated from 2005 to 2013.
Improving a Stage 3 Prognosis
Many patients have had amazing turnarounds after being diagnosed with stage 3 mesothelioma. Treatments for patients at this stage are getting better all the time. Some stage 3 pleural mesothelioma patients are living years beyond their prognosis thanks to improvements in surgery.
Main takeaways about stage 3 pleural mesothelioma:
- Surgery is the best treatment option.
- If surgery isn’t possible, consider clinical trials.
- Many stage 3 pleural mesothelioma patients outlive their prognosis.
With the help of a mesothelioma specialist, you can send your mesothelioma into remission. Take control of your mesothelioma prognosis by asking your doctor about aggressive treatments or clinical trials.
Get more information about improving your prognosis in our Free Mesothelioma Veterans Packet.