Pleural Mesothelioma

Quick Summary

Pleural mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive type of cancer caused by asbestos exposure. It affects the protective tissue lining of the lungs and causes painful respiratory symptoms. There is no known cure for mesothelioma. However, all patients must work with mesothelioma specialists to seek potentially life-saving treatments.

Pleural Mesothelioma Overview

If you’ve been diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma or suspect you might have it, here is what you need to know about this cancer type:

  • Only 3,000 new cases per year
  • Most common form of mesothelioma (80% of cases)
  • Is typically diagnosed in advanced stages
  • Doctors stage pleural mesothelioma from 1 to 4 based on how far it has spread
  • Combination treatments of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation are the best way to control and treat pleural mesothelioma
  • Dozens of the world’s top pleural mesothelioma specialists are available to help you now

What Is Pleural Mesothelioma?

Pleural mesothelioma is a cancer that forms in the tissue lining that covers and protects the lungs and chest cavity. It activates after someone has been exposed to asbestos and has inhaled the fibers into their lungs.

Pleural mesothelioma has a long latency period, meaning the onset of symptoms doesn’t occur until 10-50 years after asbestos exposure.

Though there are only 3,000 cases of mesothelioma every year, pleural accounts for the vast majority of cases at 80%. These rates are significantly higher compared to other mesotheliomas that form in the peritoneum (abdomen) or the pericardium (heart).

The median life expectancy of pleural mesothelioma patients is 12-21 months but can significantly improve with treatment. Nearly 40% of pleural mesothelioma patients live longer than one year, and that’s largely attributed to high-quality, aggressive treatments.

What Causes Pleural Mesothelioma?

There is only one known cause of pleural mesothelioma and that’s asbestos. A toxic substance that was used extensively during the 20th century, asbestos is a fibrous material that releases microscopic shards into the air when disturbed. Anyone who handled asbestos for work or was around it in school or at home is at risk of having breathed in asbestos fibers.

Pleural Mesothelioma Update

When a person inhales asbestos fibers, they travel down the airway and into the lungs where they lodge themselves into the pleura—the protective lining of tissue that covers the lungs. Once inside, asbestos fibers can never be expelled. Instead, they remain trapped in the pleura, causing irritation and inflammation to the healthy tissue.

After years or even decades of irritation, healthy cells mutate into cancer cells, which grow and divide at unchecked rates. As mesothelioma cells continue to divide rapidly, they eventually spread to form a mass of unhealthy cells—a tumor. When pleural tumors grow large enough, they cause pressure buildup in the lungs. As pressure builds up, it impairs the normal functioning of the lungs, which can ultimately lead to death by pneumonia or other respiratory conditions.

Additionally, if tumors spread far enough, they can eventually reach the lymph nodes—the immune system’s filtration points. When the lymphatic system becomes compromised by mesothelioma cells, the immune system can no longer protect the affected person, which is almost always fatal. With the right treatment, doctors can prevent the spread of mesothelioma cells to these distant sites and extend a patient’s life.

What Are the Symptoms of Pleural Mesothelioma?

Pleural mesothelioma forms in the lungs, so initially a person will experience symptoms of impaired breathing. Mesothelioma causes fluid and pressure to accumulate in the lungs, which causes other symptoms as well.

Here are the common pleural mesothelioma symptoms you may experience in early stages:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Chest pain
  • Persistent, dry cough
  • Unexplained weight loss

As the disease progresses, more severe symptoms will appear, including:

  • Audible fluid in the lungs when breathing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Swelling of the face and arms
  • Noticeable lumps under the skin in the chest area
  • Fever and night sweats
  • Back and shoulder pain

Initially, pleural mesothelioma symptoms may be easy to confuse with other conditions like a cough or bronchitis. These vague, early-stage symptoms are what make pleural mesothelioma so difficult to detect.

Most family doctors are not familiar with screening for mesothelioma and can easily overlook early symptoms. That’s why knowing your history of asbestos exposure is key to linking your symptoms to a mesothelioma diagnosis so you can get life-extending treatment as early as possible.

Pleural Mesothelioma Stages

Unlike other forms of mesothelioma (peritoneal and pericardial), pleural mesothelioma has a staging system. Doctors use staging systems to identify how far the mesothelioma has spread. The stage the pleural mesothelioma has reached informs specialists on how to best approach treatment so that the patient will get the most benefit.

Knowing how doctors stage pleural mesothelioma will help you better understand your diagnosis and how this disease progresses.

Here are the four stages of pleural mesothelioma:

Stage 1: Mesothelioma is contained in the first layer of the pleura in one lung only. In stage 1, mesothelioma may also spread into the second layer of the pleura, which is the inner layer, closer inward to the lung.

Stage 2: Mesothelioma is still fairly localized in stage 2, but may have also spread out to the walls of the chest cavity or into the diaphragm, which is nearby. It may have also spread into the lung itself.

Stage 3: Mesothelioma has spread to the chest, the pericardium (heart covering) and/or nearby lymph nodes. Stage 3 pleural mesothelioma may still be resectable (removable by surgery) depending on the patient and their overall health level.

Stage 4: The most advanced stage, mesothelioma has spread throughout the chest, into the peritoneum (abdomen), or to the other lung. In stage 4, mesothelioma may also spread into the lymph nodes located in the collarbone or to other distant sites. Stage 4 is almost never considered removable by surgery.

Pleural Mesothelioma Treatments

Pleural mesothelioma has standard treatments available at any disease stage. No two cases of pleural mesothelioma are the same, and despite there being standard treatments, what’s most effective for the patient can vary in each case.

It’s essential for patients to be treated by a mesothelioma specialist who can put you on a specialized plan tailored to you.

Pleural Mesothelioma Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a standard treatment given to patients with pleural mesothelioma.

If you’ve been prescribed chemotherapy for pleural mesothelioma, here’s what you need to know about how this treatment option works:

  • A cancer-killing drug, chemotherapy
  • Administered to patients in regular doses over multiple weeks
  • Circulates through the body and kills cancer cells in its pats
  • Prevents mesothelioma from spreading to distant sites

Chemotherapy is an essential treatment component in multimodal therapy and is given to virtually every pleural mesothelioma patient. However, all patients should be aware of the serious and common side effects of chemotherapy that include hair loss and nausea. Different chemotherapy medications cause different side effects, and doctors may change your prescription based on how you react to treatment.

Learn More About Chemotherapy for Mesothelioma.

Pleural Mesothelioma Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is another treatment that may be given to pleural mesothelioma patients as part of their treatment plan. Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays that target and destroy cancer cells to shrink tumors.

It helps control the growth and spread of mesothelioma. Radiation therapy can also help alleviate painful symptoms caused by massive tumors and is often administered as a palliative treatment for end-stage patients.

Radiation therapy is considered a non-invasive treatment method that helps protect healthy tissues while killing cancerous ones.

Learn More About Radiation for Mesothelioma.

Pleural Mesothelioma Surgeries

Two different surgical procedures and approaches can treat pleural mesothelioma:

Extrapleural Pneumonectomy: The EPP is a surgical procedure that removes the diseased lung entirely. During EPP, the surgeon also removes part of the diaphragm, the pericardium (heart covering) and the pleura from the chest wall. The goal is to remove all visible tumors and to stop the mesothelioma from spreading to distant sites by removing vulnerable tissues and organs.

Pleurectomy With Decortication: The P/D procedure is a lung-saving operation whereby the surgeon removes the diseased pleura entirely. Compared to the EPP, the P/D is considered less radical because the patient is able to keep their lung.

Different mesothelioma specialists have their own views on which surgical procedure is most beneficial to the patient. Ultimately, it’s up to you and your medical team to decide which approach is best for you.

Both surgeries generally include neoadjuvant (preoperative) chemotherapy or radiation therapy as well as multiple weeks of adjuvant (postoperative) chemotherapy following the surgery.

Get in Touch With a Pleural Mesothelioma Specialist

As a rare and complex cancer, mesothelioma can only be treated by a specialist as opposed to a general oncologist. Pleural mesothelioma specialists are thoracic surgeons with specialized oncological experience. They’re intricately familiar with how to properly diagnose and treat pleural mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma specialists all over the country are accepting new patients and can place you on a personalized treatment plan as soon as possible.

Some of the top pleural mesothelioma specialists include:

If you have been diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma or suspect you may have symptoms of it, contact Mesothelioma Help Now today. We have knowledgeable Patient Advocates available to discuss your condition and put you in touch with the top mesothelioma specialists in the country.

We’re also here to advise you on your legal rights, which can include compensation for your treatments and other expenses.

Call us at (800) 584-4151.

View Author and Sources

  1. American Cancer Society, “Malignant Mesothelioma Treatment” Retrieved from: Accessed on December 11, 2017.
  2. Cancer Research UK, “Mesothelioma—Stages” Retrieved from: Accessed on December 11, 2017.
  3. UCSF Thoracic Surgery Department, “Extrapleural Pneumonectomy” Retrieved from: Accessed on December 11, 2017.

Last modified: March 27, 2018