Mesothelioma Metastasis

When doctors say that a cancer has metastasized, they mean that the cancer has spread to another part of the body other than where it originated. Generally, a cancer metastasizes when some cancerous cells break free and travel via the lymph nodes or blood stream to a new location. Mesothelioma, like many other cancers, is highly likely to metastasize as the disease progresses. Cancerous cells that once existed only in the original tumor may now be found in other organs and tissues both near and far.

Metastatic Mesothelioma

In some cases, doctors have worked with and studied various cancers to an extent that they understand the way the disease metastasizes. Some cancers are very predictable - to the point that they can predict where the cancer will spread first, next, and last.

In the particular case of mesothelioma, most cases are metastatic at the time of diagnosis. The reason for this is the level of difficulty associated with diagnosing mesothelioma. Many patients do not seek a diagnosis or treatment until the cancer has spread since symptoms often do not surface until at least 20 years after initial exposure to asbestos (the cause of the disease). Many new mesothelioma diagnoses, then, are metastatic from the start. The disease may have started in the pleural lining of the lungs, but now may be found throughout the abdominal cavity and even in the brain.

No matter when the disease is discovered, however, mesothelioma is likely to metastasize to a greater extent as time passes. Mesothelioma generally metastasizes via "local spread," which means that metastases remain relatively near to where the original tumor was found. In the case of pleural mesothelioma (which affects the lining of the lungs), the metastases are likely to be found on the lung itself, on the diaphragm, or in the pericardial or peritoneal membranes. Mesothelioma also tends to metastasize on the same side of the body where it began. It rarely metastasizes into the central nervous system, though cases have been reported. The most frequent sites for early mesothelioma metastases are the hilar lymph nodes and the bronchopulmonary nodes, while later metastases may roam more widely.

Some doctors believe that mesothelioma is particularly likely to metastasize and spread quickly, perhaps to an extent greater than other cancers. The supposed reason for this is the original tumor's location near the lungs, which are responsible for transferring oxygen throughout the body. The lungs (and anything that affects the lungs, such as mesothelioma) have easy access to the blood stream, one of the main highways for metastasis.

Metastatic Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Most forms of mesothelioma go through the same process of diagnosis. The first step is generally an imaging test, such as an x-ray, MRI scan, CT scan or PET scan. This test allows physicians to get a visual picture of what is happening inside the body. Physicians use these images to look for any abnormal areas and identify where cancer might be present. Imaging tests are then followed by biopsies of various tissues to chemically determine if the cells are cancerous.

The initial imaging tests may or may not show the metastasized mesothelioma, as the new cancerous sites may or may not be visible. In many cases, doctors first find a primary tumor and then investigate further to determine whether or not it has metastasized. In some cases, patients may experience symptoms that seem to be unrelated but that eventually lead doctors to the site of metastasized cancer.

Metastatic Mesothelioma Treatment

All forms of mesothelioma generally share the same line-up of treatment options. A first-line defense is generally surgery, followed by chemotherapy or radiation therapy. In the case of metastatic mesothelioma, surgery is generally not a useful option because the cancer has spread far beyond one centralized locale. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy, then, are most often used to target metastasized cancerous cells.

In many cases, however, metastatic mesothelioma is too advanced to respond to treatment. Surgery cannot be attempted because the cancer is too pervasive. In these situations, doctors may choose to offer palliative treatment options. Palliative treatment options seek to ease symptoms and provide a better overall quality of life, but they are not designed to treat the cancer directly. Palliative treatment options might include removing large tumors that are placing pressure on organs or draining any built-up fluid.

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