Pleural Diseases

Quick Summary

Pleural diseases affect the pleura, two layers of protective tissue that serve as the lining of the lungs. If someone inhales toxic substances like asbestos, it may irritate the pleura and cause diseases like mesothelioma. U.S. veterans are at a higher risk of pleural diseases since the military relied on asbestos for decades. Thankfully, treatments and military benefits may be available to those affected.

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How Asbestos Causes Pleural Diseases

Once it’s lodged in the body, asbestos causes pleural diseases through decades of irritation to the lung lining. This irritation can lead to scarring, fluid buildup, cancer, or other health problems.

Asbestos is a highly durable — but dangerous — material once used to make thousands of products, ranging from construction materials to car parts. If products made with asbestos wear out or get damaged, tiny asbestos fibers are released into the air. Those nearby may then inhale these fibers, which make their way into the pleural space and become stuck.

The human body cannot break down asbestos fibers, so they remain inside the body. Over time, the fibers may cause severe damage to the pleura, eventually leading to the formation of cancer or another noncancerous disease.

Asbestos-related pleural diseases include:

  • Mesothelioma, a rare but deadly cancer that often affects the pleura
  • Pleural effusions
  • Pleural plaques
  • Pleural thickening
  • Pleurisy
  • Pneumothorax
U.S. Veterans and Risks of Asbestos Exposure Video Thumbnail

Video Summary: In this video, VA-accredited attorney Eric Hall explains why U.S. veterans are at risk of asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma. He also breaks down how affected veterans can access military benefits and medical treatment. Call (877) 450-8973 to get started. View Transcript

Veterans who served in the military between the 1930s and the 1980s were likely exposed to asbestos while they were on active duty. Usually, if you've developed an asbestos-related disease, you developed that disease because you had an excessive amount of exposure to asbestos. If a veteran believes they were exposed to asbestos while serving in the military, we encourage them to call the Mesothelioma Veterans Center so that we can work together to help them file for VA benefits.

The VA will recognize any asbestos-related disease as long as your asbestos exposure happened while you were on active duty in the military. In addition to VA benefits, the Mesothelioma Veterans Center can connect veterans with world-renowned physicians and nurses on staff that can answer any of your treatment questions. We encourage veterans to call and find out how we can help them.

Why U.S. Veterans Are at Risk of Pleural Diseases

U.S. veterans that served between the 1930s and the early 1980s are at a higher-than-average risk of asbestos-related pleural diseases.

During that time, the U.S. military relied on asbestos-based products because they were cheap and fireproof — without realizing that asbestos can lead to pleural diseases. The makers of asbestos-containing products knew of the risks but hid them to keep profits high.

Did you know?

U.S. veterans make up around 33% of all mesothelioma diagnoses as a result of corporate negligence.

Veterans who develop asbestos-related pleural diseases stemming from their military service can pursue benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA offers health care and monthly payments to veterans who got sick from military asbestos exposure.

U.S. veterans and civilians can also pursue legal compensation from manufacturers if they develop asbestos-related pleural diseases. Mesothelioma Veterans Center can help you find a trusted attorney to navigate all of your financial options.

Contact us if you or a loved one has an asbestos-related pleural disease. Compensation and treatments are available.

Types of Asbestos-Related Pleural Diseases

Pleural Mesothelioma

Pleural mesothelioma is an incurable cancer that starts in the lung lining and is only caused by asbestos exposure. It is not to be confused with asbestos-related lung cancer, which affects the lungs themselves.

Asbestos causes pleural mesothelioma by irritating healthy cells in the pleura. After 20 to 50 years, this long-term irritation causes healthy cells to mutate into cancer cells. The cancer cells then divide at an out-of-control rate, causing pleural tumors to form in the chest wall.

Common symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include:

  • Breathlessness
  • Persistent cough
  • Rib, shoulder, or back pain
  • Weight loss
Walter’s Story
Military BranchMarines
Civilian JobLogger & Freemason
DiagnosisPleural Mesothelioma

Walter served in the U.S. Navy for 20 years and was exposed to asbestos through his work as a boiler tender during this time. Over 40 years after his service, Walter developed symptoms such as a cough and shortness of breath. An X-ray revealed a cancerous mass in his lungs. Walter had pleural mesothelioma.

Pleural mesothelioma is broken down into four stages depending on how far the cancer has spread through the body. Those in the earlier stages (1 and 2) qualify for more life-extending treatments since the cancer has not spread far. However, there are treatments available no matter when someone is diagnosed.

Get a free veterans packet to learn about VA benefits for pleural mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

Pleural Effusion

A pleural effusion occurs when there's an excess buildup of fluid in the lining of the lungs.

The pleural space typically contains a little bit of fluid at all times. This fluid helps the two layers of the pleura move properly as someone breathes, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

However, an excess amount of this fluid can accumulate when the pleura becomes irritated. This may lead to symptoms such as difficulty breathing or a chronic cough.

Did you know?

Over 90% of patients with mesothelioma will suffer from pleural effusions as well, according to a report from Pulmonology Advisor. Those with other cancers like lung cancer may also suffer from effusions.

Blood and lymph fluid can build up in the pleura too. This can lead to subtypes of pleural effusions.

Pleural effusion subtypes include:

This is a pleural effusion where chyle, a type of lymph fluid formed in the small intestine, fills the lung lining. It causes symptoms such as breathing problems and chest pain.

Chylothorax may be a sign of pleural mesothelioma in rare cases. For example, the journal Respirology Case Reports noted that a 34-year-old woman was diagnosed with mesothelioma after suffering from recurring bouts of chylothorax. In these cases, chylothorax is considered malignant (cancerous).

Hemothorax, also known as a hemorrhagic pleural effusion, occurs when blood builds up in the pleura. The U.S. National Library of Medicine notes that this condition causes a wide range of symptoms, including shallow breath, chest pain, low blood pressure, and a rapid heartbeat.

Pleural Plaques

Pleural plaques are white, chalky clumps of a protein called collagen that forms the lining of the lungs. It is the most common pleural disease related to asbestos exposure, according to Cancer Therapy Advisor.

Unlike most other asbestos-related pleural diseases, pleural plaques are usually harmless and do not require treatment. In most cases, patients won’t have any symptoms.

However, pleural plaques do mean that someone has been exposed to asbestos and, in turn, are at risk of developing mesothelioma or other pleural diseases later on.

The VA has awarded benefits to veterans who developed pleural plaques stemming from military asbestos exposure in several past cases. See if you can file for VA benefits with help from our team.

Pleural Thickening

Pleural thickening occurs when the lung lining becomes scarred due to long-term irritation from asbestos fibers. This scarring limits the pleura’s ability to move and leads to difficulty breathing among those affected.

Did you know?

When the scarring is spread throughout the pleura and chest wall, it’s known as diffuse pleural thickening.

Pleural thickening can be directly caused by asbestos exposure or indirectly from other asbestos-related diseases like pleural effusions. Fortunately, the symptoms of pleural thickening are usually mild, so treatments aren’t typically needed.


Pleurisy, also known as pleuritis, is the inflammation of the pleura’s two layers. When someone has pleurisy, the pleura’s inflamed layers brush up against one another, making breathing painful and difficult.

The main symptoms of pleurisy are shortness of breath and chest pain. Some patients may also experience a buildup of pus in the pleura in a condition called purulent pleuritis (empyema).

According to the Cleveland Clinic, patients usually develop pleurisy after dealing with other health problems like asbestosis (a noncancerous lung disease caused by asbestos) or lung cancer.

Pleurisy responds well to treatments in most cases, but it may come back if it’s caused by an underlying health problem like cancer.


Pneumothorax occurs when air builds up in the pleura. In severe cases, an excessive amount of air causes the lungs to collapse.

Symptoms of pneumothorax include:

  • Chest pain
  • Cyanosis (skin turns blue due to lack of oxygen)
  • Difficulty breathing

People are more likely to develop pneumothorax if they have underlying lung problems. The condition may even be a sign of mesothelioma.

Multiple cases have been reported where people initially suffering from pneumothorax were later diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma. Some patients with pneumothorax may also suffer from pleurisy.

Pleural Disease Symptoms

While pleural diseases vary in their severity, most share similar symptoms as they affect the same area of the body. The symptoms of most asbestos-related pleural diseases typically develop several decades after exposure.

Common symptoms of pleural diseases include:

  • Chest pain
  • Chronic cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss

If you may have symptoms of an asbestos-related pleural disease, seek medical care immediately. Certain pleural diseases can quickly turn fatal without a prompt diagnosis and proper treatment. In the case of mesothelioma, you’ll likely have a better health outlook if you are diagnosed before the cancer has spread.

Call (877) 450-8973 if you have symptoms of an asbestos-related pleural disease. Our team can help you connect with top doctors.

Diagnosing Pleural Diseases

If health care professionals think you have an asbestos-related pleural disease, they’ll perform a series of tests on the chest. These tests allow doctors to see any abnormalities like scarring, a collapsed lung, fluid buildup, or cancerous tumors.

To diagnose pleural diseases, doctors typically use:

  • Chest X-ray: An X-ray uses low doses of radiation to create an image of the chest’s internal structure.
  • Computed Tomography (CT) scan: A CT scan is a more in-depth type of X-ray that’s guided by computers. It allows doctors to create a three-dimensional image of the chest.
  • Other tests: Tests such as ultrasounds, blood tests, positron emission tomography (PET) scans, or electrocardiograms (EKGs) may be used in some cases to help see inside the chest.

If doctors suspect you may have cancer, they will perform a biopsy by taking a fluid or tissue sample and testing it for cancer. A biopsy is the only way to confirm a mesothelioma cancer diagnosis.

Prognosis of Pleural Diseases

The prognosis (expected health outlook) of pleural diseases varies greatly depending on which condition you have.

For example, pleural plaques are considered the least dangerous of all asbestos-related pleural diseases. They typically produce no symptoms and won’t affect lung function. Pleurisy and pleural thickening do cause mild symptoms like pain and difficulty breathing, but they usually don’t affect a person’s overall lifespan.

Potentially fatal pleural diseases include:

  • Pleural effusions: The overall prognosis for patients with pleural effusions is often poor. For example, those with malignant pleural effusions had a median survival of 21 months or less depending on what cancer they had, according to a report from BMC Pulmonary Medicine.
  • Pleural mesothelioma: Pleural mesothelioma is the most dangerous of all pleural diseases and has a poor prognosis. Patients diagnosed in the first stages have a better long-term health outlook, with an average survival time of 19-21 months. In its later stages, the average life expectancy is 12-16 months.
  • Pneumothorax: If there’s only a small amount of air in the pleura, a pneumothorax isn’t life-threatening. However, the British Lung Foundation (BLF) notes that if a lot of air enters the pleura, the lungs and heart can get compressed and the patient may die.

Patients with these dangerous pleural diseases require critical care from doctors to improve their survival outlook.

Pleural Disease Treatment Options

Doctors treat asbestos-related pleural diseases using different methods depending on the type of disease a patient has. Some conditions, like pleural plaques or mild pneumothorax, usually don’t require any treatments.

Treatments for pleural diseases may include:

Chemotherapy is a type of medication used to kill cancer. Pleural mesothelioma is typically treated using a combination of two chemotherapy drugs: pemetrexed and cisplatin.

Extrapleural Pneumonectomy (EPP)
An extrapleural pneumonectomy is one of two major surgeries used to treat pleural mesothelioma. All visible cancer tumors, the lung closest to the cancer, the pleura, and other cancerous tissues are removed.

Pleurectomy With Decortication (P/D)
A pleurectomy with decortication is another surgery used to treat pleural mesothelioma. It’s an alternative to the EPP in which doctors remove the pleura and cancerous growths but not the lung itself.

Pleural Catheters
If you experience recurrent pleural effusions, doctors can insert a catheter into your body so that you or your loved one can drain the fluid at home.

Radiation therapy may be used to treat pleural mesothelioma. Doctors use high-energy X-rays to kill cancerous cells in the lung lining.

Talc Pleurodesis
Through a talc pleurodesis, doctors first drain the pleural space and then insert medical-grade talc into it. This causes the two linings of the pleura to stick together, preventing fluids or air from building up. It may also be used to treat a pneumothorax or a pleural effusion.

While it can be used to diagnose a pleural disease, a thoracentesis is also a treatment for pleural effusions. Doctors use a thoracentesis to extract fluid from the pleural cavity, which helps improve the patient’s breathing and reduce pain.

This treatment is similar to a thoracentesis and involves doctors inserting a small tube into the pleura to suck out air or fluid. This makes it a good treatment for pneumothorax or pleural effusions.

Other Treatments
Minor surgeries, immunotherapy, and clinical trials offer additional options to pleural mesothelioma patients. Doctors can also recommend other treatments, such as medications, to manage noncancerous pleural diseases.

It’s important to note that the success of these treatments can vary. In some patients, conditions like pleurisy and pleural effusions may require multiple treatments. In cases of pleural mesothelioma, long-term survival even with treatment is rare — but some patients have beaten the odds and lived much longer than originally predicted.

Get a free veterans packet to learn how you can access treatments for mesothelioma and other asbestos-related pleural diseases.

VA Benefits & Compensation for Pleural Diseases

Veterans who have developed a pleural disease stemming from their military service can pursue military benefits and financial compensation through various avenues.

VA Benefits

By filing for VA benefits, veterans may be able to receive monthly financial payouts for living expenses. Monthly disability compensation can pay $3,000 a month or more for veterans with mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases in some cases.

Veterans may also qualify for VA Health Care, allowing them to access low-cost or free medical treatments from some of the world’s top mesothelioma doctors. These doctors can also help veterans manage noncancerous pleural diseases, such as pleural effusions and pneumothorax.

See if you can file a VA benefits claim now with help from a fellow U.S. veteran.

Asbestos Legal Claims

Veterans may be able to get compensation from the manufacturers of asbestos-based products through legal action. These manufacturers knew about the dangers of asbestos as far back as the 1930s but concealed these dangers from the military and the public.

While filing a legal claim may seem challenging, there’s no extra hassle to veterans and families who work with an asbestos lawyer. Skilled attorneys do most of the work, from tracking down where and how a veteran was exposed, to filing the legal claim against the companies involved. Further, no legal action will be taken against the U.S. military or government.

Connect with a mesothelioma attorney to see if you qualify to file an asbestos legal claim.

Asbestos Trust Funds

Many companies that made asbestos-based products filed for bankruptcy to shield themselves from legal claims. While these companies can’t be sued, they were forced to set up trust funds so victims could get compensated.

Asbestos trust funds can award compensation to those who have asbestos-related pleural diseases. An estimated $30 billion is available in asbestos trust funds, and veterans can work with an attorney to determine whether they can access a portion of this money.

Get Help for Pleural Diseases

Veterans that served their country never deserved to develop pleural diseases like mesothelioma or pleural effusions. Sadly, thousands of veterans continue to suffer from these illnesses every year.

Fortunately, veterans can pursue VA benefit claims, legal claims, and asbestos trust fund claims to get financial restitution. By working with VA-accredited asbestos attorneys, veterans may be able to access compensation without any extra stress.

Get a free veterans packet to learn about asbestos-related pleural diseases and if you may qualify for financial compensation.

Veterans Support Team
Christopher Dryfoos PhotoWritten by:

Contributing Author

Christopher Dryfoos is a journalist and member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). As the grandson of the U.S. Navy’s first forensic pathologist, he aims to help veterans with mesothelioma access needed care.

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