Malignant pleural mesothelioma is a dangerous cancer that affects the lining of the lungs (pleura). Symptoms include chest pain, coughing, and shortness of breath. Malignant pleural mesothelioma patients have an average life expectancy of 1-2 years, but veterans may be able to access treatments to live longer.
Pleural mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Cancerous tumors develop in the pleura, the thin membrane that lines the chest cavity and lungs. Over time, the cancer tumors surround the lung and spread through the body, causing difficulty breathing or even worse health problems.
Malignant pleural mesothelioma is the most common type of mesothelioma, making up roughly 80% of all cases.
There is currently no cure for pleural mesothelioma and patients often have a poor life expectancy. However, treatment can help patients live longer with this cancer.
U.S. veterans should report symptoms of pleural mesothelioma — such as a persistent cough or difficulty breathing — and any history of asbestos exposure to doctors immediately. Patients will qualify for more effective treatment options if they are diagnosed early on.
Further, veterans with mesothelioma can see if they qualify for financial compensation and benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). These options can help ease the burdens that mesothelioma may bring and provide financial support for a veteran’s loved ones.
Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of pleural mesothelioma. Asbestos was used heavily by the U.S. military from the 1930s to the early 1980s. Thousands of veterans were exposed and are now at risk of developing mesothelioma.
Did you know?
The manufacturers of asbestos-based products sold their goods to the military without disclosing the health risks. They allowed veterans and civilians to get sick all in the name of profit.
Some veterans had a military occupational specialty (MOS) that required them to work with asbestos-containing products on a daily basis. These products could easily send microscopic fibers into the air if they were disturbed.
When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can become trapped in the lung lining and cause prolonged irritation. This irritation can harm nearby cells and eventually cause cancerous tumors to develop.
Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms
Pleural mesothelioma symptoms may not appear until decades after a patient is first exposed to asbestos. Mesothelioma has a latency period (time between asbestos exposure and symptoms) of 20-50 years.
Despite the long latency period, the average time from when mesothelioma symptoms start appearing to getting a diagnosis is 2-3 months.
Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include:
Chronic shortness of breath
Coughing up blood
Lumps under the chest wall
Unexplained weight loss
Upper back pain
Amy FairRegistered Nurse
20+ years helping mesothelioma victims
“If you have symptoms of mesothelioma, it is important to inform your doctor so that appropriate testing can be done.”
Do you have possible symptoms of pleural mesothelioma? Chat now to get help immediately.
Diagnosing Pleural Mesothelioma
Doctors diagnose mesothelioma through a multi-step process. The Mayo Clinic notes that doctors will first conduct a physical exam to look for possibly cancerous lumps beneath the skin.
If your doctor suspects mesothelioma after this exam, they will likely order imaging tests to see inside the body.
Imaging tests for pleural mesothelioma include:
During these scans, doctors will look for specific signs that show signs of mesothelioma.
Signs of malignant pleural mesothelioma include:
Calcium deposits: Calcium deposits on the pleura are the first sign that asbestos has entered the pleural membrane.
Cancerous tumors: Doctors may be able to see tumors growing within the pleura in other parts of the body.
Pleural plaques: Asbestos causes noncancerous buildups of collagen (pleural plaques) on the pleural membrane. Because of this, many pleural mesothelioma patients also have pleural plaque buildup.
Pleural effusions: Inflammation can lead to pleural effusions (fluid buildup in the lung lining). Pleural effusions occur in over 90% of patients with this form of mesothelioma.
Did you know?
Since pleural mesothelioma is not a common form of cancer, doctors may mistake it for lung cancer, pneumonia, bronchitis, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) early on. If you believe you have been misdiagnosed, get a second opinion to confirm your diagnosis.
If your doctor finds any abnormalities during imaging scans or other tests, they may conduct a biopsy.
Pleural Mesothelioma Biopsy
A biopsy is the collection and examination of tissue or fluid used to test for cancer. Doctors inspect the biopsy sample under a microscope to see if any cancer cells are present.
A biopsy is the only way to confirm a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis.
Many mesothelioma specialists prefer surgical biopsies (which collect tissue) over liquid biopsies (which collect fluid). In most cases, diagnosing pleural mesothelioma using a tissue sample provides less potential for misdiagnosis.
Call (877) 450-8973 to find a doctor and get a mesothelioma diagnosis. Our Patient Advocates can help you connect with top specialists.
Stages of Pleural Mesothelioma
As part of a mesothelioma diagnosis, doctors will be able to note what stage the patient’s cancer is in. Pleural mesothelioma is the only type of mesothelioma that has an official staging system, called the Tumor Node Metastasis (TNM) system.
There are 4 stages of pleural mesothelioma. Those with early-stage pleural mesothelioma (stages 1 and 2) typically have more treatment options. Patients with later-stage pleural mesothelioma (stages 3 and 4) may not be capable of undergoing life-extending surgery.
Pleural mesothelioma typically develops on the lining of only one lung. According to Professor of Respiratory Medicine Y.C. Gary Lee, 60% of pleural mesothelioma cases begin on the right side of the pleural cavity, while 40% begin on the left side.
Over time, tumors can grow and spread to the other lung or other areas in the chest and beyond.
Stages of Pleural Mesothelioma
Stage 1: Tumors are confined to the lining of one lung.
Stage 2: Tumors have spread to other parts of the lung or diaphragm.
Stage 3: Lymph nodes and other organs contain signs of cancer.
Stage 4: Cancer has spread to the other side of the chest and body.
Pleural Mesothelioma Prognosis
A mesothelioma prognosis describes how a patient’s cancer will likely progress and how long they can expect to live. It’s typically measured by life expectancies and survival rates.
Life expectancy measures how many months/years a patient can expect to live. Survival rates are the percentage of patients still alive after a certain period of time.
Pleural mesothelioma patients survive an average of 12 months after diagnosis. Pleural mesothelioma generally has a worse prognosis than peritoneal mesothelioma, which develops in the abdominal lining.
Doctors determine a mesothelioma prognosis based on:
Cancer stage at diagnosis
Eligibility for life-extending treatments
Mesothelioma cell type
Other factors like age and overall health
Find pleural mesothelioma life expectancies by stage and median survival rates below.
Stage 1-2 Life Expectancy
[life expectancy in months]
Stage 3-4 Life Expectancy
[life expectancy in months]
Pleural Mesothelioma Survival Rates
1-Year Survival Rate
3-Year Survival Rate
5-Year Survival Rate
10-Year Survival Rate
Survival rates vary on an individual basis, and some pleural mesothelioma survivors have lived for years past their prognosis.
Learn about ways to improve your pleural mesothelioma prognosis in our free veterans packet.
While mesothelioma is a very dangerous type of cancer, specialized oncologists (cancer doctors) can perform treatments to help patients live longer or ease their symptoms. Several top pleural mesothelioma doctors have even partnered with the VA to treat veterans.
Some of the best pleural mesothelioma doctors are:
Dr. Lebenthal treats patients at both Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the VA Boston Healthcare System and in Massachusetts. As an Israeli army veteran, Dr. Lebenthal truly understands what his patients have been through. He and his team treat over 300 mesothelioma cases each year.
Dr. Ripley serves as the Director of the Mesothelioma Treatment Center at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center in Houston, Texas. The late Dr. David Sugarbaker — a world-renowned specialist — picked Dr. Ripley as his successor.
Dr. Cameron has treated patients at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center for over 20 years. He actually invented a surgery called the pleurectomy with decortication (P/D), which allows doctors to remove pleural mesothelioma tumors without taking out a patient’s lung.
The Mesothelioma Veterans Center 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.
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Pleural mesothelioma surgery is considered the most effective treatment method for eligible pleural mesothelioma patients. Surgeons remove all visible tumors from the lungs and surrounding tissue through a process called resection. This delays the cancer’s spread and helps the patient to live longer.
Extrapleural Pneumonectomy (EPP)
An extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) involves the removal of all cancer tumors, the pleura, the lung closest to the cancer, and other diseased tissue in the chest cavity.
An EPP is a very intense procedure, typically requiring 3 hours or more to complete and weeks to recover from. However, the benefits can be great — patients can live longer, breathe better, and prevent their cancer from reaching distant parts of their body.
Pleurectomy With Decortication
A pleurectomy with decortication (P/D) allows doctors to remove cancer tumors, the pleura, and affected tissue in the lung and chest cavity. It notably does not remove a patient’s lung, allowing patients to recover faster with less side effects.
However, doctors looking to perform a P/D may sometimes find that an EPP would be more beneficial to a patient.
“At the time of surgery, we will do whatever we need to do to spare that lung. However, there are cases where the lung is so far gone, where they’re not getting function from that lung. In those particular cases, when necessary, we will do an extrapleural pneumonectomy.”
— Dr. Raja Flores,mesothelioma specialist at Mount Sinai Medical Center
Extrapleural Pneumonectomy (EPP)
Pleurectomy with Decortication (P/D)
Type of Mesothelioma
What is removed during surgery?
Part of the diaphragm
Portion of the pericardium
Time in Hospital
90-Day Mortality Rate
Call (877) 450-8973 now to see what pleural mesothelioma treatments may be right for you.
Pleural Mesothelioma Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy for pleural mesothelioma involves the use of cancer-killing drugs that circulate through the body.
Mesothelioma specialists may use chemotherapy before, during, or after surgery to prevent cancer cells from spreading and/or reduce the risk that tumors will return. Further, chemotherapy is typically the most effective treatment option if surgery is not possible.
The most common chemotherapy drugs for treating pleural mesothelioma are pemetrexed and cisplatin. This combination has shown to increase survival time by an average of 3 months longer than cisplatin alone.
A study from the University of Maryland Medical Center found that pleural mesothelioma patients who received chemotherapy alone lived for 12-18 months. Patients who received a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation lived up to 29 months on average.
Amy FairRegistered Nurse
20+ years helping mesothelioma victims
“Chemotherapy is, for most people, intravenous. It goes in the vein. It goes through your whole system, [and] it kills your good cells and kills your bad cells.”
Historically, radiation was not considered a primary form of pleural mesothelioma treatment because it also harmed nearby tissue. However, a 2019 study found that pleural mesothelioma patients who received aggressive radiotherapy were twice as likely to live for at least 2 years.
“Of the patients who received the aggressive radiotherapy treatment, 58% were still alive two years later. In the patients who received the palliative radiotherapy, 28% were still alive two years later.”
– European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology (ESTRO)
Radiation therapy is also frequently used as a supplement to surgery and chemotherapy.
Emerging Pleural Mesothelioma Treatments
Beyond long-accepted therapies, several new pleural mesothelioma treatments have become available thanks to years of cancer research.
Newer pleural mesothelioma treatments include:
Optune Lua™The Optune Lua is a device that uses painless, electrically charged pads that attach to the chest and prevent cancer cells from growing. The Optune Lua is portable and has limited side effects (like mild skin irritation). It is currently approved for use in late-stage pleural mesothelioma patients that are also undergoing chemotherapy.
ImmunotherapyImmunotherapy drugs train the body’s immune system to better identify and kill cancer cells. In October 2020, the FDA approved a combination of two immunotherapy drugs as a pleural mesothelioma treatment: nivolumab (Opdivo®) and ipilimumab (Yervoy®).
Clinical trialsResearchers are studying even more treatments for pleural mesothelioma in clinical trials. Patients may be able to join a clinical trial and access new treatments by talking to their doctors. Immunotherapy and the Optune Lua were both approved for mainstream use after they showed promise in clinical trials.
Chat with us to speak with our medical team to see if these new treatment options may be right for you or your loved one. You can also learn more with a free veterans packet.
Pleural mesothelioma can bring patients and their families feelings of stress, anger, and sadness. Thankfully, you are not alone after a diagnosis.
Accessing treatment at a top mesothelioma cancer center may help extend your life by months or years. Treatment often costs little to no money if you have VA Health Care.
Further, you can pursue compensation from the manufacturers of asbestos-based products and VA financial benefits to cover any other expenses. Some of these benefits may even extend to your family members if you pass away.
The Mesothelioma Veterans Center has compiled information about life-extending treatments, VA benefits and compensation, and more in our free mesothelioma veterans packet. You can also call (877) 450-8973 to learn more by speaking with a member of our team.
Pleural Mesothelioma: Common Questions
Can you survive pleural mesothelioma?
Yes — several past mesothelioma patients have lived for months or even years longer than originally expected.
You might also be able to achieve long-term survival, depending on your diagnosis and treatment plan.
Is pleural mesothelioma curable?
Pleural mesothelioma does not have a cure at this time. Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy can all help patients live longer and remove as much of the cancer as possible from the body. For more information, contact our team right now.
What are the symptoms of pleural mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma causes symptoms such as shortness of breath, a chronic cough, and pain in the chest and/or lower back. As the cancer worsens, more symptoms like coughing up blood may set in.
If you are experiencing these symptoms and were exposed to asbestos, see a doctor immediately. The symptoms of pleural mesothelioma are often mistaken for more common conditions at first, allowing the cancer to spread and the symptoms to worsen.
How can veterans access VA benefits for pleural mesothelioma?
Veterans with pleural mesothelioma can apply for VA benefits right now to pursue both financial compensation and medical treatments. Our team — including fellow veterans, VA-accredited attorneys, and caring patient advocates — can help these veterans build a case and file a claim.
Double Board-Certified Oncologist and Hematologist
Todd Gersten, MD is a double board-certified medical oncologist and hematologist specializing in general adult oncology and hematologic disease. He is a physician partner with the Florida Cancer Specialists and practices in Wellington, Florida.
Dr. Todd Gersten is an independently paid medical reviewer.
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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