Mesothelioma is a particularly difficult to treat cancer that develops from exposure to asbestos. While a recent discovery does not offer a new avenue to a cure, it does offer potential new insight into diagnosis, staging, and treatment options for this terrible disease.
Fifty-six mesothelioma patients were part of a recent clinical trial at the University of Maryland. While the clinical trial was designed to determine the impact of lung sparing surgery on patients, the doctors conducting the trial discovered that almost half of the patients had cancer in their posterior intercostal lymph nodes. These lymph nodes are located near the spine, between the ribs.
Previously, doctors used the mediastinal lymph nodes, located in the chest between the spinal column and sternum, for cancer staging and treatment choices. According to the Charles Reid Edwards Professor of Surgery and Head of the Division of Thoracic Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM), the posterior intercostal lymph nodes could turn out to be as important, or more so, than any other lymph nodes included in the staging of pleural mesothelioma.
Cancer cells from solid tumors spread throughout the body via metastasis, and the route for many such cells is the lymph nodes. The study revealed that 11 percent of the patients had mesothelioma spreading only through the intercostal lymph nodes. Previously, these nodes would not have been removed or even biopsied for determining a cancer’s stage.
As noted, including the 11 percent of patients who had evidence of mesothelioma only in these nodes, approximately half of the patients had mesothelioma in these and other lymph nodes. Those whose cancer had metastasized to the intercostal nodes had a 2.5 times greater likelihood of tumor progression and 2.3 times “elevated risk of death.”
While involvement of the intercostal lymph nodes appears to mean an even worse prognosis for mesothelioma patients, as it shows a spreading of the cancer, there is something of a silver lining. Cancer surgery is difficult and debilitating, and the discovery of intercostal lymph node involvement means some patients may not receive such complicated and aggressive surgery.
If the cancer has already metastasized, performing very aggressive surgery does not make sense, as it is unlikely to increase the patient’s life span, and the difficult recuperation may lead to an earlier death. Instead, doctors can focus on the quality of life in patients with cancer cells in their intercostal lymph nodes.
The information from this study indicates mesothelioma surgeons should include performing biopsies on the intercostal lymph nodes on all patients, and the UMSOM thoracic surgeon says that such node biopsies should become part of the cancer staging process.
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with mesothelioma as the result of asbestos exposure, you need the services of the experienced Philadelphia mesothelioma lawyers at Brookman, Rosenberg, Brown & Sandler. Call us today at 215-569-4000 or contact us online for a free consultation to discuss your case. From our offices in Philadelphia we proudly represent clients across Pennsylvania, including those in Delaware County, Chester County, Philadelphia County, and in New Jersey.