Pleural Mesothelioma


Pleural mesothelioma is a rare type of asbestos-caused cancer. It affects the protective tissues that line the lungs and chest (pleura). While the prognosis is poor, there are important treatment options that can extend life expectancy.


If you’ve been diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, or you or your doctor suspect you may have it, then here is what you need to know about this disease and your prognosis:

  • Rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure that affects the lungs and chest
  • The most common form of mesothelioma, accounting for 80% of all new cases
  • Average life expectancy is 12-21 months but can be extended with aggressive treatments
  • Doctors diagnose by stages 1-4 based on how far cancer has spread
  • Standard treatments include surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation
  • Best outcomes achieved when treated by mesothelioma specialists located at cancer centers across the country
  • Learn more about this condition in our FREE Mesothelioma Justice Guide

What Is Pleural Mesothelioma?

Pleural mesothelioma is a relatively new cancer, and its complexities are not yet fully understood by doctors. With fewer than 3,000 new cases per year in the United States, it remains an extremely rare cancer that’s difficult for doctors to identify.

The other 2 main forms of mesothelioma—peritoneal (abdomen) and pericardial (heart)—only account for an estimated 30% and less than 1% of all disease cases respectively.

It forms in the tissue lining that covers the lungs and chest wall. Tissues that cover organs are called the mesothelium, and the mesothelium that covers the lungs and chest is called the pleura. Pleural tumors first form on one side of the chest and can spread to distant sites if left untreated.

Highly technical surgical procedures can aggressively remove tumors and potentially extend patients’ lives by several months to years.


Mesothelioma has a latency period of 10-50 years, meaning it can take decades for symptoms to develop after asbestos exposure.

Symptoms are notoriously difficult to detect. Vague respiratory-related symptoms often get mistaken for other more common and less severe conditions.

Primary symptoms include:

  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Difficulty breathing and shortness of breath
  • Fever, night sweats, and fatigue
  • Fluid buildup in the lungs (pleural effusions)
  • Persistent, dry cough
  • Unexplained weight loss

The most commonly reported symptoms in patients are chest pain and chronic cough.

One of the leading signs of mesothelioma is thickening and fluid buildup within the pleura, which occur due to pleural inflammation caused by metastasizing (spreading) tumors.

Because vague symptoms can easily be mistaken for conditions like pneumonia or emphysema, it’s vital that you report your history of asbestos exposure to your doctor. This can help you identify your condition sooner so you can undergo the correct treatments.


The only known cause of pleural mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. Used extensively during the 20th century, asbestos was a fireproof insulation material installed in buildings and added to industrial products.

Anyone who worked extensively around asbestos is now at risk of developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

Asbestos fibers are microscopic, yet indestructible. When they become airborne, asbestos particles can be inhaled by those nearby. Inhaled asbestos fibers lodge themselves into the lung’s protective lining (pleura) where they can never be expelled.

Here is what happens after asbestos fibers become trapped in the pleura:

  1. Irritation can trigger genetic mutations in healthy mesothelial cells.
  2. Healthy cells become cancerous mesothelioma cells and grow at abnormal rates.
  3. Mesothelioma cells lump together and form metastatic tumors (cancerous tissue) that can spread to distant sites.
  4. As mesothelioma tumors grow, they damage the lungs, the heart and the lymphatic system (the body’s filtration mechanism).

Left untreated, this disease becomes fatal due to complications resulting from the malignant (cancerous) tumors. With treatment, patients can have tumors removed or shrunk, which may increase life expectancy.

Free Mesothelioma Justice Guide

Mesothelioma is a complex disease. If you’ve been diagnosed, the Mesothelioma Justice Guide will help you understand your treatment options and how to improve your prognosis.

Claim Your Mesothelioma Justice Guide Now

Who Gets Pleural Mesothelioma?

The majority of mesothelioma patients are men. Because mesothelioma is caused by asbestos, most of the people exposed to this toxin during the 20th century occupied traditional male-oriented jobs such as military and trade workers.

The peak time when asbestos was used most (1940s to 1980s), therefore mesothelioma is a disease affecting predominantly older adults over the age of 60.

Pleural mesothelioma can affect people from all walks of life. Because it was used so extensively and contaminated anything and everything around it, women—including wives, mothers, daughters and sisters of asbestos workers—and even younger adults in their 20s and 30s can develop mesothelioma due to secondhand exposure.


Disease Stages

With most cancer types, doctors apply a standard medical practice called staging, which tells doctors how far advanced the disease is. By knowing where the cancer has spread to, doctors can decide which treatments will be most effective either at resecting (removing) the mesothelioma or managing the patient’s symptoms (palliative).

Doctors use 3 different staging systems each with their own criteria.

In general, the 4 stages of pleural mesothelioma are:

  • Stage 1: Mesothelioma remains localized in one or both layers of the pleura.
  • Stage 2: Mesothelioma has metastasized slightly outside the pleura and possibly into nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage 3: Mesothelioma has metastasized into nearby tissues, organs or lymph nodes.
  • Stage 4: Mesothelioma has invaded distant sites like the peritoneum, pericardium and/or the other side of the chest.

Most cases are diagnosed at stage 3 or 4. No matter how far advanced your condition is, there are treatments available for every stage.

Treatment Options

Specialists have developed effective treatments for pleural mesothelioma. The hope for increased life expectancy is much higher today compared to 20 years ago thanks to new methods and approaches to treating even late-stage patients.

Standard treatments include a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and palliative treatment.

For treatments to be most effective, plans must involve:

  • Experienced pathologists capable of accurately diagnosing the cancer type
  • Multidisciplinary teams of specialists across a range of medical fields
  • Highly skilled surgeons who specialize in removing pleural tumors

Patients may be eligible for curative surgeries, which can either fully or partially remove tumors and improve survival.

The 2 standard curative surgeries are:

  1. Extrapleural Pneumonectomy: Surgeons remove the diseased lung, pleura, lymph nodes, pericardium and part of the diaphragm. Patients can live with only one lung, but it may decrease the quality of life for certain people.
  2. Pleurectomy With Decortication: During a less radical surgery, surgeons remove the diseased pleura and all visible tumors nearby. Though this procedure allows patients to keep their lung, there’s debate over whether or not it leads to higher rates of recurrence (when cancer comes back).

Most patients also undergo chemotherapy or radiation therapy or both. These anti-cancer treatments help shrink tumors and kill off remaining microscopic mesothelioma cells left behind after surgery.

Seeing a Specialist

Patients should seek treatment from a specialist for their best chance at survival. General oncologists do not have the experience necessary to effectively treat mesothelioma. It’s a rare cancer, and most doctors only see 1 or 2 cases in their careers. Since the disease affects each person differently, personalized treatment plans from experienced specialists are vital.

By seeing a specialist, you’ll be treated by an entire team of mesothelioma experts who have dedicated their careers to researching and treating this disease.

Treatment teams include thoracic surgeons and medical and radiation oncologists who can provide the latest treatment technologies and approaches.

Our country has many of the world’s top specialists including:

  • Dr. Robert Cameron—Thoracic Surgical Oncologist, UCLA Medical Center and Los Angeles VA, Los Angeles CA
  • Dr. Anne Tsao—Thoracic Medical Oncologist, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston TX

Mesothelioma can only be accurately diagnosed by a specialist. If you’ve received a diagnosis from a general oncologist, then it’s crucial to get a second opinion from a pleural specialist.

A second opinion can either confirm your diagnosis or provide you with a different one, which will alter your treatment plan.

It’s common for pleural mesothelioma to be misdiagnosed as another type of cancer. To avoid wasted time, be sure to contact a mesothelioma specialist immediately before starting on any treatment plan.

Access Asbestos Trust Funds

Medical expenses can add up quickly. Compensation for treatment, loss of income and other damages is available through Asbestos Trust Funds. Patients with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses may qualify.

Find Out If You Qualify

Compensation for Mesothelioma Victims

All major cancer centers with mesothelioma programs accept health insurance plans. However, some plans won’t cover all costs associated with treatments. In addition to medical bills, patients often need to travel great distances to undergo treatment, which can incur significant costs not covered by most health insurance.

A mesothelioma diagnosis is a major emotional and financial burden to patients and their families. By filing for legal compensation, you may be able to cover your treatments costs, travel and accommodation expenses and any other damages you’ve suffered such as lost wages.

This compensation comes from manufacturers of asbestos-containing products who hid the dangers of asbestos exposure for decades. Court-ordered trusts have been established to pay those injured by asbestos.

Veterans may also be eligible for medical benefits through the VA. If you can prove that your mesothelioma was caused by asbestos exposure during your time as an active duty military member, then you may be able to receive monthly payments from the VA.

To learn more about compensation for a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis, contact our Justice Support Team today. Call us at (888) 360-4215 or request a FREE Mesothelioma Justice Guide to better understand your legal compensation options.

View Author and Sources
  1. Mayo Clinic, “Mesothelioma Overview.” Retrieved from: Accessed on December 30, 2017.
  2. Medscape, “Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma Treatment Protocols.” Retrieved from: Accessed on December 30, 2017.

Last modified: February 4, 2019