There are three different types of mesothelioma- epithelioid, sarcomatoid and biphasic. Each kind differs in the type of cancerous cells that manifest in the protective lining of the internal organ. A doctor has to perform a biopsy in order to determine which type of mesothelioma is present in the patient. A biopsy involves removing a tissue sample from the affected area and viewing the cells under a microscope. Based on the shape of the cells, the specific form of mesothelioma can be found.
Epithelioid mesothelioma is the most common form of asbestos cancer. Around 50-70% of all mesothelioma cases are of this type. Under a microscope, epithelioid cells are shaped like cubes. In their entirety, the cells have a uniform shape that aligns in a tubular pattern. While this is the most common form of mesothelioma, it’s also the most treatable. Patients with epithelial cells have a positive outcome for diagnosis.
The structure of epithelioid mesothelioma is similar to other diseases that manifest in the tissue lining, the most notable being adenocarcinoma. Because they are so similar, misdiagnosis of epithelioid mesothelioma can be common. Patients usually seek the help of a specialized mesothelioma doctor due to the fear of misdiagnosis.
Sarcomatoid is the least common form of mesothelioma. Approximately 10-15% patients are diagnosed with this form of mesothelioma. Sarcomatoid, in comparison to epithelioid cells, have a less uniform structure. Their singular cells are more oval shaped than cubed and the nucleus of each cell is less distinct when viewed under a microscope. Sarcomatoid cells appear spindle shaped with plump, elongated nucleus and tend to overlap one another. They are also the most aggressive cells and easily spread, so this means there are fewer treatment options for patients with this form of mesothelioma.
Similar to epithelioid mesothelioma, sarcomatoid can be easily misdiagnosed. This is because other disorders exhibit similar cell structures. Pulmonary sarcomatoid carcinoma and sarcomatoid cancer are frequently misdiagnosed in patients who suffer from sarcomatoid mesothelioma.
Biphasic mesothelioma, the second-most prevalent form of asbestos cancer, is diagnosed in around 20-40% of patients. Biphasic cells are a mixture of epithelial cells and sarcomatoid cells. Prognosis can vary, depending on the mixture of the cells. If the tumor contains mostly sarcomatoid cells, the cancer is likely to spread faster, which can make treatment difficult.
Biphasic mesothelioma can be misdiagnosed as either epithelial or sarcomatoid mesothelioma, due to the mixture of cells.
Mesothelioma Treatment Options
The treatment process is quite similar for all types of mesothelioma. However, the survival rate for the three forms is different. Epithelioid mesothelioma offers the greatest chance of survival. Patients with this form of cancer have an expected survival rate of around 8.5 months. Epithelioid cells respond best to treatment, so the life expectancy is longer.
Sarcomatoid mesothelioma is not as positive when it comes to responding to treatment, and the life expectancy is shorter. An average survival rate is around 7 months, and biphasic mesothelioma only has a 6 month survival rate.
For all different forms of mesothelioma, treatment involves several different options. Patients usually have to undergo surgery to remove as much of the cancerous tumor as possible. If the cancer hasn’t spread to the lungs or chest, then recovery may be possible. Sadly, once the cancer has spread to other areas of the body, success rates for surgery decreases substantially.
Normally, surgery is followed by chemotherapy and/radiation therapy. which can help to slow down the spread of cancer. In some cases, these therapies can force the cancer into remission.
Unfortunately, because mesothelioma is particularly difficult to treat, doctors are sometimes forced to resort to palliative care. This means focusing more on treating symptoms and relieving pain rather than trying to find a cure for the cancer.
If you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, you may be entitled to substantial compensation.
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Mesothelioma Types page updated on August 19, 2015.