What Is Pleural Mesothelioma?
Malignant pleural mesothelioma is a life-threatening and rare cancer that starts in the pleura, the lining of the lungs. The pleura serves as a protective layer that separates the lungs from the chest wall. You could develop pleural mesothelioma if you inhale asbestos fibers and the fibers make their way into the pleura.
Pleural mesothelioma is the most prevalent type of this cancer. About 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year. Roughly 2,400-2,500 of these cases are pleural mesothelioma.
Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include chest pain, difficulty breathing, and fatigue. The symptoms are often mild at first, so many patients are not diagnosed until the cancer has spread. Even worse, this cancer is very aggressive and has no known cure.
The good news is that specialized oncologists (cancer doctors) can treat pleural mesothelioma patients. The best treatments are lung-related surgeries, which can help some patients live for years or even decades after their diagnosis.
If you’ve been diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, Mesothelioma Resource Group can help. Our nursing support team can connect you with top pleural mesothelioma doctors and treatments faster.
Further, we may be able to pursue financial compensation on your behalf if you qualify. Makers of asbestos-based products could be responsible for your cancer and so it may be possible to get financial aid from them. Mesothelioma claims often award $1 million or more.
Find out your eligibility now with a free mesothelioma guide.
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What Causes Pleural Mesothelioma?
The only known cause of pleural mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos fibers. Asbestos is a very durable, fiber-like mineral that was used in thousands of different commercial products between the 1930s and early 1980s.
These products could have released asbestos fibers into the air. If you breathed the fibers in, they could get stuck in your body and never leave since they’re so durable.
“When asbestos fibers are breathed in, they travel to the ends of small air passages and reach the pleura, where they can cause inflammation and scarring. This may damage cells’ DNA and cause changes that result in uncontrolled cell growth.”
– American Cancer Society
Some people that are exposed to asbestos may develop other types of mesothelioma or different asbestos-related diseases. Researchers are currently studying why some people develop pleural mesothelioma and others don’t.
Symptoms of Pleural Mesothelioma
Pleural mesothelioma symptoms typically affect a patient’s breathing and lung function.
Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include:
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing (dyspnea)
- Fatigue or feeling very tired
- Night sweats
- Pleural effusion (fluid buildup in lung lining)
- Pleural thickening
- Shortness of breath
- Weight loss
The most common symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include chest pain, a cough, difficulty breathing, and pleural effusions. More than 8 in 10 cases of pleural mesothelioma begin with patients suffering from pleural effusions, according to the medical journal Pathology International.
Pleural mesothelioma has a long latency period. This means it typically takes 10-50 years after asbestos exposure before symptoms appear. Patients usually start to develop symptoms of pleural mesothelioma between the ages of 50 and 70.
Finally, some patients may have other asbestos-related diseases before they develop pleural mesothelioma.
One is asbestosis, which is a noncancerous illness that causes many of the same symptoms listed above. Another is pleural plaques, which are buildups of a substance called collagen within the lung lining. Pleural plaques don’t cause any symptoms and aren’t dangerous.
How Is Pleural Mesothelioma Diagnosed?
Doctors can diagnose pleural mesothelioma by looking at your overall health and symptoms, performing imaging scans, and taking a biopsy (tissue/fluid sample).
The first step to diagnosing pleural mesothelioma is seeing a doctor if you’re concerned something is wrong with your health.
Make sure to mention if you were exposed to asbestos and any symptoms you have during your doctor’s visit. A pleural mesothelioma diagnosis is often delayed since the cancer’s symptoms are shared by many more common health issues. This gives the cancer more time to spread. By letting your doctor know about your exposure, you may be able to avoid this problem.
Doctors will then likely recommend imaging scans to look inside your chest for any signs of cancer (like tumors). Common imaging tests include chest X-rays, CT scans, and MRI scans. Blood tests may also be used to look for biomarkers – proteins or other substances that mesothelioma cells give off.
The final step in diagnosing mesothelioma is to take a biopsy. If doctors see a growth or another possible sign of pleural mesothelioma on an imaging scan, they’ll want to take a sample of it.
The biopsy sample will then be sent to a lab where it’ll be reviewed under a microscope to see if mesothelioma cells are present. Doctors can then confirm if you have pleural mesothelioma or another health problem.
The average pleural mesothelioma patient is diagnosed at the age of 72, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
Our team may be able to help you pursue treatments and financial aid after a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis. Learn more with a free case review.
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Pleural Mesothelioma Cell Types and Diagnosis
There are three main pleural mesothelioma cell types. Which cancer cell type you have can greatly affect your overall health outlook and lifespan. Doctors can determine which type of cancer cells are present during a biopsy.
Pleural mesothelioma cell types include:
- Epithelioid mesothelioma: This cell type (also known as epithelial mesothelioma) is the most common and easiest to treat. Because of this, epithelial mesothelioma patients have a better health outlook than those with other cell types.
- Sarcomatoid mesothelioma: This type is very aggressive and hard to treat since it spreads more easily through the body than other cell types. It’s also the least common type.
- Biphasic mesothelioma: You’ll have biphasic mesothelioma if your cancer tumors are made up of both epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells. Biphasic mesothelioma is the second-most common cell type. It’s easier to treat if more epithelial cells are in the tumors than sarcomatoid ones.
Leading pleural mesothelioma specialist Dr. Raja Flores believes that a patient’s cell type is the most notable factor that affects their lifespan.
Misdiagnosing Pleural Mesothelioma
Cases of pleural mesothelioma are often misdiagnosed, as the cancer shares symptoms with more common health problems.
Pleural mesothelioma could be misdiagnosed as:
- Lung cancer
- Other types of cancer that have spread
- Other types of mesothelioma (like pericardial mesothelioma)
A pleural mesothelioma misdiagnosis can be very dangerous as the cancer won’t be treated properly, which can give it time to spread. If you think you’ve been misdiagnosed, get a second opinion from another mesothelioma doctor immediately.
Pleural Mesothelioma Stages
Doctors can classify cases of pleural mesothelioma into one of four stages using the Tumor-Node-Metastasis (TNM) staging system. This staging system measures the spread of cancer based on tumor size, if the cancer has reached lymph nodes, and if metastasis (where the cancer has reached faraway parts of the body) has occurred.
When pleural mesothelioma is in its early stages, it will be easier to treat as the cancer hasn’t spread far. Doctors can also help late-stage mesothelioma patients even though there are fewer treatment options available.
Stages of pleural mesothelioma include:
- Stage 1: Pleural mesothelioma tumors are found in the pleura near the chest wall. They may have also invaded parts of the pleura that cover the lungs, diaphragm (muscle underneath the lungs), or mediastinum (space between lungs).
- Stage 2: The tumors have spread further and may be found in the diaphragm, nearby lymph nodes, or within or on top of a lung. Though it has spread more, stage 2 pleural mesothelioma is still highly treatable.
- Stage 3: By the third stage, pleural mesothelioma tumors could be found in the lungs, heart lining (pericardium), chest wall, and more lymph nodes. Surgeries may or may not be possible for cases of stage 3 pleural mesothelioma.
- Stage 4: This is the final and most advanced stage of pleural mesothelioma. By this point, the cancer has metastasized into distant organs like the brain or liver. Major surgery is not used to help stage 4 patients but other treatments can ease pain.
Pleural Mesothelioma Prognosis
Doctors can provide a pleural mesothelioma prognosis (health outlook) after they’ve made a proper diagnosis and determined what stage the cancer is in.
The average pleural mesothelioma prognosis is less than ideal, with many patients only living a few years or months after being diagnosed.
That said, every person’s cancer battle is different and it may be possible to live for decades with pleural mesothelioma. Prognostic factors like a patient’s age, stage, cell type, and available treatment options can all affect how long someone lives with pleural mesothelioma.
There are two main parts to a pleural mesothelioma prognosis: a patient’s life expectancy (measured in months or years) and the average survival rate (percent of patients alive after a set period of time has passed).
Pleural Mesothelioma Life Expectancy
The life expectancy for pleural mesothelioma patients is 12-21 months, according to a report from Frontiers in Oncology.
Life expectancy can vary depending on what pleural mesothelioma stage you have, among many other factors. Stage 1 patients have the longest median survival time at 21 months. Patients with stage 4 pleural mesothelioma live for just 12 months on average.
Some pleural mesothelioma patients can outlive these average life expectancies, though. For example, early-stage pleural mesothelioma patients treated with lung removal surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation live for nearly three years on average.
There have even been reports of pleural mesothelioma patients living for 15 years or more thanks to aggressive treatments.
Pleural Mesothelioma Survival Rates
Pleural mesothelioma has a 5-year survival rate of 12%, according to the ACS. This means that most pleural mesothelioma patients are not alive 5 years after being diagnosed.
However, survival rates can vary depending on when a patient is diagnosed, their cell type, how their body responds to treatments, and other factors. For example, pleural mesothelioma patients that undergo radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery to remove a lung and cancer tumors have a 5-year survival rate of 24%.
Our team can help you get treatments that may help you live longer after a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis. Call (888) 360-2406 now.
Pleural Mesothelioma Treatment Options
Pleural mesothelioma treatments are the best way to live as long as possible with this cancer. Treatments can allow doctors to remove or destroy as much of the mesothelioma tumors as possible, ease the symptoms that cancer causes, or both.
Common pleural mesothelioma treatment options include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, among several others. Health care providers may use several treatments together (which is called multimodal therapy) for best results.
Learn more about different pleural mesothelioma treatments below.
Surgeries for Pleural Mesothelioma
The most important pleural mesothelioma treatment is often surgical resection, where doctors are able to take out as much of the cancer as possible.
There are two major surgeries that are used to treat pleural mesothelioma:
- Extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP): This treatment was created by the late pleural mesothelioma specialist Dr. David Sugarbaker. Doctors remove the lung closest to the cancer, all visible cancer tumors, the lung lining, and other nonvital organs affected by the cancer. This treatment (when used along with radiation and chemotherapy) has helped patients live for 35.6 months on average.
- Pleurectomy with decortication (P/D): The P/D was developed as a less-intense alternative to the EPP. This treatment allows doctors to remove cancer tumors and the lung lining. However, neither lung is removed so patients can recover with fewer complications than if they received an EPP. Pleural mesothelioma patients that get a P/D live for 34 months on average – almost as long as those who get an EPP.
Doctors can determine which pleural mesothelioma surgery (if any) will be best for you. Some doctors will prefer one surgery over another. You’ll likely only be able to undergo surgery if you’re diagnosed with early-stage pleural mesothelioma.
Other Mesothelioma Treatments
Surgery is just one pleural mesothelioma treatment option. There are many additional therapies that doctors may use as part of a treatment plan for pleural mesothelioma.
Additional pleural mesothelioma treatments include:
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is one of the most commonly used treatments for pleural mesothelioma. Doctors administer chemotherapy drugs like pemetrexed and cisplatin, which circulate through the body and destroy mesothelioma cells.
- Immunotherapy: Pleural mesothelioma cancer cells can evade the body’s natural immune response. Immunotherapy drugs enhance the immune system to counteract this.
- Palliative care: These treatments are focused on easing a patient’s cancer symptoms and improving their quality of life. For example, doctors can drain pleural fluid from the lung lining to ease symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath.
- Radiation therapy: Also called radiotherapy, doctors use concentrated X-rays or other beams of energy to kill pleural mesothelioma cells and shrink tumors. Radiation therapy itself is painless but can cause side effects like hair loss, nausea, and fatigue.
- Tumor Treating Fields (TTFields): This treatment uses pads attached to the chest that emit an electrical field, which slows the growth of pleural mesothelioma cells without hurting the patient. TTFields are currently used in conjunction with chemotherapy to treat pleural mesothelioma.
Further, you may be able to access new pleural mesothelioma treatments – or improved versions of existing ones – through a clinical trial.
Newer treatments currently being studied in trials include photodynamic therapy (which uses light to kill cancer cells), gene therapy (where the genes of cancer cells are altered so they’re easier to destroy), and cryotherapy (which involves freezing cancer cells so they die) among many others.
We can help connect you with pleural mesothelioma treatments right now. Learn more with a free mesothelioma guide.
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Top Pleural Mesothelioma Doctors
Because pleural mesothelioma is such a rare disease, you’ll need to work with doctors that specifically know how to treat this cancer. Fortunately, there are pleural mesothelioma specialists across the country that can help treat you.
Below, we’ve identified some of the top pleural mesothelioma specialists currently treating patients.
Dr. Robert Cameron treats pleural mesothelioma at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in California. Dr. Cameron has decades of experience in helping mesothelioma patients and has pioneered breakthroughs in treatment.
Notably, Dr. Cameron developed the P/D procedure so pleural mesothelioma patients could get life-extending surgery without losing a lung. Dr. Cameron strongly believes that the P/D is the best surgical option for pleural mesothelioma.
Dr. Cameron is also a strong advocate for U.S. veterans with mesothelioma. Since 1998, Dr. Cameron has partnered with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to treat veterans fighting pleural mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma Resource Group has no affiliation with and is not endorsed or sponsored by Dr. Robert B. Cameron. The contact information above is listed for informational purposes only. You have the right to contact Dr. Cameron directly.
Dr. Raphael Bueno is the chief of thoracic and cardiac surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts and has decades of experience in treating pleural mesothelioma.
As part of his work at Brigham and Women’s, Dr. Bueno leads the International Mesothelioma Program (IMP), where a team of over 80 works to provide the best treatments for mesothelioma patients.
Dr. Bueno also continues to study newer ways to treat mesothelioma and lung cancer, participating in ongoing research to help patients live longer.
Dr. Raja Flores is the chairman of Mount Sinai Health Care System’s thoracic surgery department in New York. He treats mesothelioma patients with either an EPP or a P/D, depending on the case.
Dr. Flores has consistently been named a top doctor by publications like Castle Connolly. He can also treat other asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis and lung cancer.
Help for Pleural Mesothelioma Patients
Life after a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis can be stressful and scary – but you and your family can get help.
Pleural mesothelioma patients like you may be able to access:
- Financial aid: Manufacturers of asbestos-based products hid the risks and let people like you get sick. Mesothelioma legal claims filed against these manufacturers often award $1 million or more. We can file for compensation on your behalf if you qualify.
- Medical care: Doctors across the country can treat malignant pleural mesothelioma. Treatments like surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy may allow you to live for years or possibly decades after a diagnosis. Our nursing support staff can connect you with top doctors and treatments.
- VA benefits: You can pursue monthly compensation, low-cost medical treatment, and other VA benefits if you’re a veteran with pleural mesothelioma. We can help you gather the information needed to file a claim.
Don’t wait: Get a free mesothelioma guide now to see how we can help you and your family.
FAQs About Pleural Mesothelioma
Is pleural mesothelioma curable?
There’s no known cure for pleural mesothelioma at this time, but it is treatable. Common pleural mesothelioma treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation can help patients live for years longer than originally expected.
For best results, talk to a doctor as soon as possible if you’re worried that you might have pleural mesothelioma. Getting a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis before the cancer spreads is key to accessing treatments that can help you live longer.
Who is at risk of pleural mesothelioma?
Anyone exposed to asbestos could develop pleural mesothelioma later in life. That said, those who worked with or around asbestos-containing products for long periods of time are at the highest risk.
Men were more likely to work with asbestos at their jobs than women, which makes them more likely to develop pleural mesothelioma. Up to 80% of all pleural mesothelioma patients are men, according to the medical publication Cancer Therapy Advisor.
How long can you live with pleural mesothelioma?
The average life expectancy for pleural mesothelioma is 12-21 months, but it may be possible to live for decades after a diagnosis with the right cancer treatments.
In some cases, pleural mesothelioma patients can live for 15 years or longer with treatment.
What are the symptoms of pleural mesothelioma?
Common symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include a pleural effusion (fluid buildup in the lung lining), chest pain, shortness of breath, and a cough that won’t go away.
Most pleural mesothelioma symptoms start off very mild at first before they worsen as the cancer spreads through the body.
Is pleural mesothelioma the same illness as lung cancer?
No. Although both of these cancers can affect the lungs, pleural mesothelioma is entirely different from lung cancer.
Pleural mesothelioma starts in the lining of the lungs, not the lung itself. Doctors must also use different treatments on pleural mesothelioma patients than on lung cancer patients.
However, both pleural mesothelioma and lung cancer can be caused by asbestos exposure – and financial aid may be available to you. Learn more by calling (888) 360-2406.