Difference Between Malignant Mesothelioma and Pleural Plaque

Quick Summary

Pleural plaque and mesothelioma are both caused by exposure to asbestos. The long-term effects of this exposure are vastly different and present as two extremely opposite diagnosis based on the type and duration of exposure.

Mesothelioma vs. Pleural Plaque Overview

Mesothelioma and pleural plaque are two different diseases both caused by asbestos. They require entirely different treatments and have vastly different prognoses.

The pleura surrounds the lungs and lines the inside of the rib cage with a two-layered membrane. Exposure to asbestos thickens the areas of this membrane and accumulates a chalky material, which is called pleural plaque.

Pleural plaque is not a form of cancer. Having pleural plaques does not mean that patients have, or will go on to get, a more serious disease.

Mesothelioma originally starts as small nodule tumors scattered in the mesothelial lining. Eventually, they grow together to form a sheath-like tumor surrounding the lung or other organs. It can also present itself in the lungs, heart, the lining of the abdomen and testes.

What Is Pleural Plaque?

Pleural Plaque is almost always asymptomatic, but the knowledge of its presence can cause emotional and physiological effects that may produce symptoms that could include:

  • Anxiety
  • Labored or difficulty breathing
  • Chest tightness
  • Grating sensation in the chest

While physical signs and symptoms are rare, patients and loved ones should be aware of the psychological factors this diagnosis may have even though it doesn’t mean there are signs of a more serious disease.

Being exposed to asbestos, however, does increase the risk of developing serious lung conditions like:

  • Lung cancer
  • Mesothelioma
  • Asbestosis

Scientific evidence has not shown that having pleural plaques increases the risk of developing other serious conditions, and until told otherwise by medical professionals, patients shouldn’t worry about that possibility when diagnosed with pleural plaque.

Diagnosing Mesothelioma vs. Pleural Plaque

A mesothelioma diagnosis can be confused with lung cancer, as they have similar sets of symptoms. A history of asbestos exposure is an indicator for doctors to look for mesothelioma. Most often, doctors identify mesothelioma because of other problems the disease causes.

Early warning signs include:

  • A cough that doesn’t go away
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unexplained loss of appetite or weight loss
  • Swelling of the face or neck veins
  • Blood in mucus that is coughed up from the lungs
  • Trouble breathing or swallowing
  • Tiredness

During patient examinations, doctors review genetics and medical history to figure out if more tests should be ordered and deciphered by specialists.

Imaging tests for a mesothelioma diagnosis can involve:

  • X-rays
  • Bone scans
  • Computed tomography (CT/CAT scan)
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan

Other lab tests, including biopsies and blood tests, take cells from the lung to be examined under a microscope. While looking at the images from all scans and tests, mesothelioma specialists will rule out the possibility of lung cancer if there is a history of asbestos exposure.

Diagnosing Pleural Plaque

Simple exposure to asbestos does not mean that mesothelioma or other serious diseases should be the assumed diagnosis. Pleural plaque, for example, occurs when patients have been exposed to asbestos. It is not, however, a form of cancer and should not be assumed that patients will later develop more serious diseases.

Diagnosis of pleural plaque generally happens 20 to 40 years after initial asbestos exposure. Its severity is related to how long the patient was exposed to the asbestos.

Patients without chest problems normally don’t need a CT scan or chest X-ray unless it is recommended by a doctor. In most cases, exposure to a CT scan and X-rays is riskier than being diagnosed with a pleural plaque.

Treating Mesothelioma vs. Pleural Plaque

Treatments for mesothelioma vary based on different factors that specialists and tests will recommend. Most often, more than one form of treatment will be used based on the stage of the cancerous growth, lung function, a person’s overall health and specific traits of the subtype of mesothelioma. The treatment order or combination provided to patients is also determined by these factors.

Options for mesothelioma treatment based on specialist recommendations could include:

  • Surgery: Surgeons can physically resect (remove) mesothelioma tumors.
  • Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy can target mesothelioma tumor with high-powered rays, shrinking them and killing off cells.
  • Chemotherapy: Circulating anti-cancer drugs through the bloodstream kills off mesothelioma cells in its path.
  • Palliative Treatments: Therapies that improve quality of life by easing symptoms are considered palliative treatments for mesothelioma.

Pleural Plaque Treatment

Pleural plaque does not require treatment. For some patients, however, the psychological effects of being diagnosed should be treated.

After being diagnosed with pleural plaque, you or a loved one might experience anxiety or symptoms of stress from the knowledge of the diagnosis. Please talk to your doctor to receive options to assist in dealing with this.

Smokers with pleural plaque should seek help to quit to help reduce the chances of a smoking-related lung disease such as lung cancer.

Getting a Second Opinion on Mesothelioma vs. Pleural Plaque

A second opinion on pleural plaque or mesothelioma may be useful in certain cases. Since this is a non-life threatening disease and treatment is not needed, a second opinion may help patients for peace of mind psychologically.

For more information on seeking a second opinion on your diagnosis, contact Mesothelioma Help Now today to speak to our Patient Advocates.

View Author and Sources

  1. British Lung Foundation, “Asbestos-related conditions.” Retrieved from: https://www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/asbestos-related-conditions/pleural-plaques Accessed February 14, 2018.
  2. British Thoracic Society, “Pleural Plaques: Information for Health Care Professionals.” Retrieved from: https://www.brit-thoracic.org.uk/document-library/clinical-information/mesothelioma/pleural-plaques-information-for-health-care-professionals/ Accessed February 12, 2018.

Last modified: May 10, 2018