One manner in which malignant pleural mesothelioma can affect a patient’s lung capacity is through a process known as pleural effusion. The body naturally produces small amounts of pleural fluid in order to lubricate the surfaces of the pleura, which is a serous membrane located within the pleural cavity that surrounds the lungs. A pleural effusion, however, is an abnormally excessive amount of this fluid.
Leading Cause of Mesothelioma
Exposure to asbestos is the leading cause of malignant mesothelioma. Asbestos is a naturally occurring material that can be easily broken apart. Once these particles are freed they can be easily inhaled or ingested. Asbestos was once considered a “miracle mineral” and used in a number of applications, namely those where protection from extreme temperatures and chemicals was necessary such as pipe fittings, shipbuilding, and chemical plants. Used throughout the twentieth century, even after its hazardous effects became evident, asbestos has since been regulated in the United States but is not banned.
How Asbestos Fibers Limit Lung Capacity
Once embedded within vital tissues known as the mesothelium, asbestos fibers act as a human carcinogen, eventually leading to the formation of cancerous cells. These cancerous cells begin to divide rapidly and abnormally. This abnormal division can then result in the thickening of the pleural membrane. This thickening could potentially lead to a pleural effusion, impairing breathing and lung capacity by limiting the expansion of the lungs during respiration.
Symptoms of a moderate to severe pleural effusion include:
- Inflammation of the pleura
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Types of Pleural Effusions
There are two main types of pleural effusions, transudative and exudative. Transudative pleural effusions tend to be associated with congestive heart failure rather than mesothelioma. It indicates an imbalance regarding fluids being produced versus fluids removed and it usually a clear fluid. Exudative, on the other hand, is cloudier and tends to be a sign of mesothelioma. The fluid comprising exudative pleural effusions are cells, proteins, and other substances.
The four types of fluid capable of accumulating within the pleural space are:
- Serous fluid
How can a Pleural Effusion be Treated?
Pleural effusions are commonly treated through a process known as thoracentesis. This is an invasive procedure with the intent of removing the fluid that is causing discomfort and trouble breathing. A doctor or medical specialist administers a local anesthesia and then uses a cannula, or hollow needle, to remove the fluid via the thorax. In other cases, doctors may suggest the patient undergo a surgical procedure known as a pleurodesis. This procedure is more likely to be used for recurring situations of pleural effusion, such as those associated with malignant mesothelioma. During a pleurodesis procedure talc is inserted into the pleural cavity which causes an irritation between the layers of the pleural cavity, closing off the space to prevent further fluid buildup. Anesthesia is also utilized during this procedure in order to offer comfort to the patient. Unlike the outpatient status that is usually associated with a thoracentesis, a pleurodesis can require the patient to remain in the hospital for a longer period of time, depending on their overall health and ability to manage pain and symptoms.