Assessing the stage at which a victim’s mesothelioma has reached is crucial to an accurate prognosis. Concern has recently been raised over the different methods used, which may present a different picture of a patient’s true condition.

Early detection of mesothelioma, the incurable asbestos-related cancer of the lung linings, can add precious months to the time left to a victim of asbestos exposure. It may also be hoped that there will be enough time to seek answers and pursue action for a mesothelioma claim. An interim lump sum payment will provide often much -need help for vital treatment, care and any support equipment. If eligible to apply, a fast track payment can also be obtained via the Diffuse Mesothelioma Scheme (DMPS) 2014, which takes around six weeks for the entire application process to be completed.

The average mesothelioma survival rate is 10 months from a confirmed diagnosis, depending on the age of the victim and how far the disease has spread. Life expectancy can, however, differ between 2 and 12 months or sometimes more. When an asbestosis lawyer is able to trace a former employer and/ or their liability insurer, it may also be possible to obtain an out of court settlement, and avoid a long court process, especially if the case goes to Appeal.

The ability to diagnose mesothelioma cancer at an early stage is critical to the administering of a combination of asbestosis treatments, which can help improve a patient’s survival rate.

Advanced and difficult to treat

If the initial diagnosis of asbestosis symptoms is at an early stage, mesothelioma may still be ‘localised’ with the cancer cells only found at the site where the cancer originated. However, if the cancer cells have become diffuse and spread to more sites beyond the original location, the mesothelioma is considered advanced and can be difficult to treat and life expectancy is reduced.

Recent research carried out at Harvard University in the US has discovered a significant difference between two different methods of assessing the stage to which the cancer had reached. A study of nearly 500 malignant pleural mesothelioma patients discovered an inconsistency in 6 out of 10 patients. The two assessment methods only agreed with each other for only 36 per cent of patients.

Both methods are based upon a staging system called TNM, which defines the severity or extent of the cancer, and can often determine the course of treatment for a patient. Many physicians still rely on the TNM Staging System for evaluating mesothelioma, which was developed in 1995 by the International Mesothelioma Interest Group (IMIG).

Also known as the IMIG Staging System, the letters of TNM system refer to the individual development stages:

T : signifies the size and location of the tumour
N : determines whether the lymph nodes have been affected.
M : describes if the tumours have spread to other parts of the body.

Poor prognosis still received by patients

Increasingly, concern has been raised over the validity of the TNM system, particularly because of the poor prognosis still received by patients. Studies have found that a slightly differing result may be obtained when using “clinical” staging analysis versus “pathological” staging analysis of TNM.

Clinical staging – analysis estimates the extent of the cancer based on results of physical examination using imaging tests, such as x-rays, CT and MRI scans, and tumour biopsies. The tests provide critical information for deciding the best treatment to apply.

Pathologic staging – involves surgery carried out to determine the spread of the cancer as well as the results of the examinations and scanning. It also provides more precise information to help predict treatment response and outcomes. However, it is observed that the pathologic stage can be different from the clinical stage, for example, if the surgery shows the cancer has spread more than was first thought.

“Under staged” or more extensive

The results of the US study highlighted the inconsistency between the two methods. The research team discovered that more than 200 patients were “under-staged”, i.e. that their pleural mesothelioma was actually more advanced than their TNM staging would suggest. At the same time, the cancer looked more extensive than was first indicated in nearly 20 per cent of mesothelioma patients.

The Harvard researchers believe that patients with asbestos cancer may be given a more accurate prognosis by the use of an alternative staging system for mesothelioma. A method using “quantitative” tools such as, 3D CT imaging “performed statistically significantly better” by comparison.

It was concluded that this method was more likely to help mesothelioma patients and their doctors make better decisions over their treatments, and in predicting their outcomes.