Pleural mesothelioma is an extremely rare type of cancer. There are less than 3,000 new cases in the United States each year. Because of the rarity of this cancer, many people are unaware of what causes pleural mesothelioma, what symptoms to look for or how to treat this cancer. 

Our goal at MesotheliomaGuide is to spread awareness of the rare cancer mesothelioma, including awareness about how patients and caregivers can find treatment from specialists and other support resources. Here are 7 things you should know about pleural mesothelioma. 

1. Pleural Mesothelioma Is Caused by Exposure to Asbestos 

The only cause of pleural mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral. Asbestos was widely used throughout various industries during the 20th century. It was considered a valuable material during the 20th century for its heat resistance, durability, and inexpensive price tag for businesses to purchase and use. 

Contrary to its durability within walls and tiles, asbestos can be fragile and easily turn into toxic dust if not properly preserved. The mineral is made of many small fragments, which can splinter and break apart from the main source.

Once asbestos fibers enter the air, they can be easily inhaled or breathed in, making their way to the lungs. Asbestos fibers are microscopic and extremely sharp, which means they can become lodged in the lining of the lungs, causing irritation and the formation of mesothelioma tumors. 

Asbestos exposure is the primary risk factor for pleural mesothelioma. There are a few different types of asbestos exposure: 

  • Occupational asbestos exposure occurs when a worker is exposed to the toxic mineral in the workplace or while performing job-related duties. 
  • Environmental asbestos exposure occurs as a result of an asbestos-contaminated environment. Libby, Montana is the most famous example of this type of asbestos exposure. 
  • Secondhand asbestos exposure occurs when someone comes in contact with another person who was directly exposed to asbestos. An example of this is washing an asbestos mine worker’s uniform in the family washing machine, contaminating any other clothes or items that may come in contact with the uniform. 
  • Talc asbestos exposure occurs as a result of using asbestos-contaminated talc products. The most well-known example of this is Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder

The corporations responsible for the production of asbestos and asbestos products knew about the health risks associated with this mineral but did not warn the public. Victims of asbestos exposure are at risk for developing various asbestos diseases, including pleural mesothelioma. 

2. Pleural Mesothelioma Has a Long Latency Period

Pleural mesothelioma has an extensive latency period, which is the time between asbestos exposure and a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis. The latency period for mesothelioma can be up to 50 years. 

According to one study, out of 1,690 mesothelioma patients, only 4% were diagnosed within 20 years of their exposure.

Asbestos was mostly phased out of American production and manufacturing in the 1980s. This means most people are just now experiencing symptoms or receiving a diagnosis – nearly 40 years after their exposure. It’s important to know the risks of asbestos exposure and know if you were exposed. To learn more about confirmed locations of asbestos exposure, look at our asbestos exposure database. You can search your city and state for known asbestos exposure sites. This may help you get an early diagnosis, increasing your chances of survival. 

3. Pleural Mesothelioma Often Lacks Severe Symptoms

Due to the long latency period of mesothelioma, pleural mesothelioma symptoms can take decades to develop. Symptoms often resemble common respiratory conditions. The most common pleural mesothelioma symptoms are painful breathing, persistent coughing, fluid buildup in the pleura (pleural effusions) and chest pain. 

Other symptoms may include fever, anemia, fever, face or arm swelling, hoarseness, pleural thickening, night sweats, blood clots, lower back pain, pleural plaques, fatigue or difficulty swallowing. However, pleural plaques are not always a sign of pleural mesothelioma. They can be a standalone condition caused by exposure to asbestos. 

4. Pleural Mesothelioma Can Be Difficult to Diagnose

A pleural mesothelioma diagnosis can be difficult to determine due to the extensive latency period and absence of severe symptoms until the disease is in advanced stages. Doctors often compile a list of possible causes and diseases based on the patient’s symptoms. This is a diagnostic method known as mesothelioma differential diagnosis. It helps doctors to eliminate certain conditions with similar symptoms and determine which diagnostic test to perform in order to provide an accurate mesothelioma diagnosis. 

As mentioned earlier, fluid buildup in the pleura (pleural effusion) is a primary symptom of pleural mesothelioma. Once doctors have completed the mesothelioma differential diagnosis process, they may perform a pleural fluid analysis.

Doctors may choose from various diagnostic tests, including imaging scans and biopsies, to perform in order to determine a patient’s diagnosis:

  • X-ray – Provides a two-dimensional image to show any signs of a tumor, mass or fluid buildup near the lungs
  • CT scan – Provides three-dimensional images of the chest cavity and pleura
  • PET scan – Sends radioactive sugar into the blood for cancerous cells to absorb while a special camera sends a picture of the radioactive energy back to the medical team for real-time footage
  • MRI scan – Creates detailed images of soft tissue to help locate any abnormalities or tumors
  • Biopsies – Removes a tissue or fluid sample from the pleural cavity to examine under a microscope. A tissue biopsy is the only way to get a definitive diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma.

5. The Average Life Expectancy for Pleural Mesothelioma Is Around One Year

The average pleural mesothelioma prognosis, or life expectancy, is 8-19 months. There are several factors contributing to a mesothelioma patient’s prognosis, such as the stage of pleural mesothelioma, the patient’s age, gender, mesothelioma cell type, lifestyle, diet and overall health.

Patients diagnosed with early-stage (stage 1 or stage 2) pleural mesothelioma often have the best prognosis because the cancer has not grown or spread significantly. Patients diagnosed with stage 1 pleural mesothelioma have an average life expectancy of 22 months. Patients diagnosed with stage 2 pleural mesothelioma have an estimated survival of 19 months. 

Patients diagnosed with late-stage pleural mesothelioma have a less hopeful prognosis. The life expectancy for stage 3 pleural mesothelioma patients is around 15 months. The average prognosis for stage 4 patients is around one year. 

6. Pleural Mesothelioma Is Most Effectively Treated With Surgery

Pleural mesothelioma surgery is typically the most effective treatment option for this cancer. There are two surgical treatment methods for pleural mesothelioma: extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) or pleurectomy with decortication (P/D). 

EPP surgery is the most aggressive type because it removes the affected lung, the pleura (lining around the lung), and potentially the pericardium (lining around the heart) or diaphragm. P/D is an alternative to EPP, as it spares the lung. P/D surgery removes the pleura and potentially the pericardium and part of the diaphragm. 

Patients diagnosed with early stage pleural mesothelioma are often suitable candidates for surgery. However, patients diagnosed in later stages may not be eligible for surgery and may be offered other pleural mesothelioma treatment options

Other treatment methods for pleural mesothelioma include chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation, multimodal therapy and tumor treating fields. Pleural mesothelioma chemotherapy is the most commonly used treatment method for patients ineligible for surgery.

Immunotherapy for pleural mesothelioma is an emerging treatment option approved by the FDA. Pleural mesothelioma radiation therapy is most effective when combined with other treatment methods, such as before or after surgery.

To learn more about pleural mesothelioma and treatment options, connect with our registered nurse, Karen Ritter. She can help answer any health-related questions and offer cancer center recommendations.

7. If You Have Been Diagnosed With Pleural Mesothelioma, You Are Entitled to Compensation

Pleural mesothelioma is the direct result of asbestos exposure. Asbestos was produced and distributed all over the world for decades without any health warnings. The corporations responsible for creating this health hazard need to be held accountable. 

Most cases of mesothelioma are caused by occupational asbestos exposure, which is exposure occurring in the workplace. The companies which hired people to work in an asbestos environment failed to protect them from hazardous working conditions or let them know of the dangerous setting. Employees, customers, consumers and the government were unaware of the reckless business practices these corporations were conducting. 

If you were exposed to asbestos and have been diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, you are entitled to mesothelioma compensation. There are several ways to receive this compensation. 

Veterans make up a vast majority of mesothelioma victims. Veterans can file various VA claims in order to receive compensation for their mesothelioma. 

Many victims file lawsuits against at-fault companies. Compensation may also be provided through asbestos trust funds, which are accounts created by bankrupt asbestos companies. Non-bankrupt (active) companies may offer legal settlements as compensation.  

To learn more about mesothelioma compensation, connect with our patient advocates. They can help you find an experienced mesothelioma lawyer to take on your case. 

    Sources & Author

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About the Writer, Camryn Keeble

Camryn Keeble is the senior content writer and editor for Mesothelioma Guide. She creates mesothelioma-related content for the Mesothelioma Guide website. Camryn's goal is to decipher advanced information regarding mesothelioma into informative, simplified content to educate those affected by mesothelioma. She also works diligently to raise awareness of mesothelioma and its effects on patients and their loved ones.