How many stages of mesothelioma are there?

Posted: 8th Apr 21 7:30 AM

Mesothelioma, a cancer caused predominantly by asbestos exposure, is not usually diagnosed until its later stages when symptoms start to present themselves.

The stages of mesothelioma tumours are used to describe how far the cancer has spread and grown from where it first developed. This spread is known as metastasis – the further the mesothelioma has spread, the later doctors stage the disease.

Biopsies and imaging tests are usually used by doctors to determine the stage of mesothelioma and other cancers. The results from these tests can help with the decision of which treatments are best suited for your needs.

Most symptoms for mesothelioma do not present themselves until later stages when the cancer has grown and spread. This often means the cancer is caught too late for the most effective treatment options, and the symptoms can become more severe and health can deteriorate rapidly.

What are the stages of mesothelioma?

Stage 1: There’s no spread to your lymph nodes (small, soft nodules of tissue and part of the body’s immune system), and the cancer is localised to one side of your body. This is the earliest stage, where patients have the most treatment options available as the cancer is more responsive to treatment.

Stage 2: The cancer is still localised to one side of the body, but there are signs of metastasis to some nearby lymph nodes. Some of the more aggressive treatment options are still available and can extend life expectancy.

Stage 3: Significant signs of metastasis start to present themselves. Mesothelioma has spread to further lymph nodes and even surrounding organs. Treatment options become limited to some surgeries. The prognosis of those with stage 3 mesothelioma is strongly linked to age and general health – those who are healthy and can withstand surgery could seek treatment to extend life expectancy past the average for those with mesothelioma.

Stage 4: Mesothelioma has spread to the other side of the body. Options for treatment for patients at this stage focus mainly on relieving pain caused by symptoms. People diagnosed with stage 4 mesothelioma have a life expectancy typically shorter than 12 months. Many are not eligible for traditional treatment options like surgery. Palliative treatments can ease pain and suffering, and have shown some prognostic benefits in a few cases.

Are there differences in the stages between different types of mesothelioma?

These stages are primarily used to describe the metastasis and growth of pleural mesothelioma, which affects the lining of the lungs (the pleura). When the cancer begins to spread from stage 2 and onwards, it can spread to the walls of patients’ chest, diaphragm, nearby lymph nodes and to the lung itself. In later stages, the cancer can spread to the lining of the heart.

Patients with peritoneal mesothelioma (affecting the lining of organs in the abdomen) or pericardial mesothelioma (affecting the lining of the heart) are more often described as either having “localised” or “advanced” mesothelioma, determining how far the cancer has spread within the areas affected.

How are these stages determined?

Oncologists and other specialist doctors tend to use imaging tests to confirm the stage of mesothelioma and how far it has spread. These imaging tests include:

  • CT scans
  • MRI scans
  • PET scans

Biopsies are also an effective and often vital method used to both diagnose mesothelioma, and determine what stage it is at. Although it is quite a daunting type of surgery, acquiring lung and other tissue samples is extremely beneficial to the medical staff trying to find out what is causing health problems.

If you or someone you know is ever diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the National Asbestos Helpline. We’re here to help you with advice about your condition and can also advise on any benefits and/ or compensation you might be entitled to. Call us on Freephone 0800 043 6635, or email

Further reading

What are the warning signs of mesothelioma?

What is the asbestos compensation claims process?

How long does it take to develop an asbestos-related disease?