The pleura is a membrane. It lines the outside of the lungs and the inside of the chest cavity. Pleural mesothelioma is cancer of the pleura.
Pleura of the Lungs
Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably, a mass of tissue forms. This is called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant tumors. They can invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.
Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that is known to cause cancer. This type of cancer is almost always caused by exposure to it. Even a small amount of exposure can be a risk.Other fibers can cause mesothelioma.
Factors that may increase your chance of getting pleural mesothelioma include:
- Repeated exposure to asbestos fibers
- Living with a person who works near exposed asbestos fibers
- Exposure to other fibers (erionite, fluoro-edenite, and refractory ceramic)
- Exposure to ionizing radiation
This cancer can take up to 20-40 years to develop. Early signs of pleural mesothelioma include:
- Trouble breathing
- Long-lasting cough
- Pain under the rib cage or in the abdomen
- Pain while breathing
- Weight loss and fatigue
Many people do not have symptoms for a long period of time.
Your doctor ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may be referred to a doctor who specializes in lung problems or cancer. A pulmonologist focuses on the lungs. An oncologist focuses on cancer.
Sometimes, it is hard to tell the difference between this and other, more common types of lung cancer.
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:
Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:
- Blood tests
These same tests and others may also be used to find out if cancer has spread outside the pleura. It is important to know whether and how far the cancer has spread to plan treatment. This step is called the staging process. It helps determine the level of treatment.
Pleural mesothelioma is usually treated with:
The only known way to prevent this cancer is to avoid asbestos or other fibers. People who could be exposed to asbestos at work include:
- Factory workers
- Insulation workers
- Railroad workers
- Ship builders
- Makers of gas masks
- Construction workers
Family members of workers can also be at risk for this cancer. The asbestos fibers can be brought home on clothing. This type of exposure is just as dangerous.
Asbestos can also be found in old building insulation, roofing materials, and tiles.
To avoid exposure to asbestos:
- Workers should use proper safety equipment and precautions.
- Workers should use safety measures to avoid bringing asbestos dust home on their clothing.
- Areas of exposed asbestos must be checked by experts. This may be old public buildings and homes with asbestos shingles, tiles, or insulation.
- Exposed areas must be removed by proper means or sealed off.
- A homeowner untrained in asbestos abatement should never attempt to remove asbestos material.
American Lung Association
National Cancer Institute
Canadian Cancer Society
Cancer Care Ontario
Antunes G, Neville E, Duffy J, Ali N on behalf of the BTS Pleural Disease Group. BTS guidelines for the management of malignant pleural effusions. Thorax. 2003;58:ii29
Cugell DW, Kamp DW. Asbestos and the pleura: A review. Chest. 2004;125(3):1103-1117.
General information about malignant mesothelioma. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/types/mesothelioma/patient/mesothelioma-treatment-pdq. Accessed May 29, 2013.
Nishimura SL, Broaddus VC. Asbestos-induced pleural disease. Clin Chest Med. 1998;19(2):311-329.
Occupational lung disease. American Lung Association website. Available at: http://www.lung.org/assets/documents/publications/solddc-chapters/occupational.pdf. Accessed May 29, 2013.
Roberts JR. Surgical treatment of mesothelioma: pleurectomy. Chest. 1999;116(6 Suppl):446S-449S.
Last reviewed June 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.