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TNM: 3 letters critical in describing mesothelioma

We have often discussed the fact that diagnosis is extremely complicated when it comes to mesothelioma. There are several reasons for this.

To begin with, the symptoms of mesothelioma are often similar to the symptoms of other illnesses. Chest pain, fatigue, coughs and shortness of breath are all potential signs of illnesses caused by asbestos exposure, but they can also be signs of other illnesses, which doctors typically need to rule out first. Additionally, diagnosis can be difficult because any symptoms that arise typically do so decades after a person has been exposed to asbestos which can make it difficult to connect the two events. But as difficult as it may be, it can be crucial to get an accurate diagnosis as quickly as possible, and this can typically involve three letters: T, N and M.

According to the American Cancer Society, these letters make up the staging system used by the American Joint Committee on Cancer. This is how doctors are able to describe the specific nature of a person's mesothelioma, which can be crucial in understanding how and if the illness is spreading.

Basically speaking, this is what these letters can tell us:

  • T: This stands for Tumor. The many groups that fall under the T category describe the actual tumor. Various numbers can come after a T and, generally speaking, the higher the number is, the more a tumor has grown or spread.
  • N: This stands for Nodes and notes how much a person's lymph nodes have been affected by the cancer. The N can be followed by numbers of 0-3 and again, higher numbers indicate a more serious condition.
  • M: This stands for Metastasized. Essentially, this describes how and if the cancer has spread. The M will either be followed by a 0 if distant sites have not been affected by the spread of the cancer or a 1 if distant organs or lymph nodes have been affected.

Using these metrics, doctors can assign the stage of a person's cancer and treatment can be identified.

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