Pleural mesothelioma is the most common form of cancer affecting the mesothelium, the protective membrane around your lungs, heart, and abdomen. While rare, this cancer can progress quickly, so it’s important to be aware of the symptoms and risk factors.
In this article, we explore the symptoms and risk factors for this cancer, as well as how it’s diagnosed, staged, and treated.
Pleural mesothelioma is a rare type of lung cancer primarily caused by workplace asbestos exposure. It’s the
While there are approximately under 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma reported annually in the United States, overall numbers of new patients have been declining over the last 2 decades because of decreased asbestos exposure.
But despite the declining number of new cases, pleural mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that warrants prompt diagnosis and treatment. Read on to learn the common risk factors and symptoms associated with this type of mesothelioma so you can discuss critical next steps with your doctor.
The symptoms of pleural mesothelioma may not show up for 30 to 50 years after you’ve been exposed to asbestos.
In its earliest stages, pleural mesothelioma may not cause any symptoms. But once it’s advanced, you may experience the following:
You should call your doctor right away if you’re experiencing the above symptoms, especially if you have a known asbestos exposure. This is an aggressive cancer that requires prompt diagnosis and treatment. Unexplained but frequent pneumonia also warrants a doctor’s visit.
While the exact cause is unknown, previous asbestos exposure — especially in the workplace — remains the most common risk factor for pleural mesothelioma.
In fact, according to the American Lung Association, approximately 8 out of every 10 people diagnosed with mesothelioma had a history of asbestos exposure.
When you inhale asbestos fibers, they can eventually make their way into the pleura of your lungs. Over time, irritation and inflammation can occur and possibly lead to the development of cancerous cells.
You may be at risk of asbestos exposure if you live or work in a building that has asbestos. Certain occupations that take place in older buildings or ones that dealt with asbestos prior to the 1970s may also increase your risk of mesothelioma.
- construction workers
Another key risk factor is the length and amount of exposure to asbestos. If you had long-term exposure to a large amount of the material, then you may have a higher risk of developing pleural mesothelioma than someone who had little exposure.
Other risk factors for pleural mesothelioma include:
- inherited genetic mutations (occurs in about 1 percent of people diagnosed with mesothelioma)
- advanced age, with
72 yearsbeing the average age of onset
- receiving radiation therapy as a child
Based on your symptoms and history of possible asbestos exposure, your doctor will first order imaging tests of your lungs, like an X-ray or CT scan. Such tests may be able to identify:
- pleural thickening in your lungs
- deposit calciums called pleural plaques
- fluid accumulation that may indicate pleural effusion
If your doctor suspects pleural mesothelioma, they may conduct further imaging tests along with a biopsy to obtain a tissue sample. The biopsy is sent to a lab for evaluation to identify the type of cancer. You might also need biopsies in other areas of the body if the cancer has spread.
The cancer is also classified based on the appearance of the cells:
- epithelioid cancer cells, which make up
more than 50 percentof all mesotheliomas and have the best outlook
- fibrous (sarcomatoid) cells
- combination of epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells (biphasic/mixed)
Overall, here’s how pleural mesothelioma is staged:
Treatment for pleural mesothelioma may consist of one or more of the following options:
- chemotherapy to shrink cancer cells and prevent further growth
- targeted therapies that directly fight cancer cells
- Immunotherapy drugs that utilize your immune system to attack cancer cells
- surgery to remove the pleura (pleurectomy) or a larger part of the lung
- surgery to remove fluid buildup (thoracentesis) for effusions
Effusions affect about
Thoracentesis may also be repeated to help address related symptoms, like chest pain and shortness of breath. During the procedure, your doctor will remove the fluid via fine-needle aspiration and an ultrasound.
According to the American Cancer Society, the overall
Many factors aside from the cancer’s location can impact your overall prognosis. This includes your age, overall health, and advances in treatment. The stage of your cancer at the time of diagnosis also makes a difference.
It’s best to talk with your doctor about your individual case and outlook. While pleural mesothelioma is historically aggressive, current data doesn’t reflect improvement in treatments for this cancer.
Pleural mesothelioma is a type of cancer that starts in the lining of your lungs. While rare, this cancer progresses quickly and may be at an advanced stage before symptoms begin. Asbestos exposure remains the greatest risk factor for developing mesothelioma.
Due to the aggressive nature of this cancer, it’s important to see your doctor for diagnosis of any possible symptoms of pleural mesothelioma. This is especially the case if you’ve previously worked in industries where asbestos exposure was rampant, such as construction or mining.
Treatments for pleural mesothelioma continue to advance, and surgery may even be an option at the earlier stages of this cancer. Talk with your doctor about all of your options so you can make the best decisions for your outlook and quality of life.