Staging of a person’s cancer is done for many different reasons. According to the American Cancer Society, staging is defined as: “The process of finding out how much cancer is in the person’s body and where it is located. It’s how the doctor determines the stage of a person’s cancer.” For mesothelioma, there have been various different staging systems put in place over the years at different institutions. This sometimes leads to confusion regarding the language, a patient’s prognosis, and for scientists hoping to speak a common language when collaborating.
Most cancers are staged using the TNM classification system. T stands for the primary tumor, N stands for the lymph nodes- whether the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, M stands for metastasis, whether the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body. Each of these three classifications- T, N, M – is then broken down with more descriptive information. Once the extent of the T, N, M classifications have been determined, they are then assigned an overall stage. There are also other factors that affect the stage, including the grade- how the cells look under the microscope, cell type, location, and tumor marker levels. Once cancer is staged it always remains the same. If you are diagnosed with Stage 2 cancer, it will always be referred to as Stage 2 even if it goes into remission, or metastasizes to other organs.
For many years, mesothelioma experts did not have a defined staging system exclusively to describe mesothelioma. A mesothelioma expert once said mesothelioma is so rare just having the diagnosis of mesothelioma, at an earlier point in time, would have gotten you into a mesothelioma clinical trial.
As testimony to progress, a group led by Dr. Valerie Rusch of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, in conjunction with the International Mesothelioma Interest Group, and other organizations has defined a new staging system for pleural mesothelioma. The importance of mesothelioma staging system is uniformity in describing the disease. The effect of various treatment options can be studied and perfected for the different types of pleural mesothelioma.
More evidence that the treatment of mesothelioma is being advanced on many fronts and further work towards a potential cure!