Pleural Mesothelioma

Quick Summary

Malignant pleural mesothelioma is a cancer that affects the lining of the lungs (pleura). It’s caused by asbestos exposure. Symptoms include chest pain, coughing, and shortness of breath. Pleural mesothelioma patients live for 1-2 years on average, but some may live longer with treatment. Veterans with pleural mesothelioma can get medical care and financial aid from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

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What Is Pleural Mesothelioma?

Malignant pleural mesothelioma is a rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure. The cancer starts in the pleura, the thin lining of the lungs. Over time, cancer tumors encase the lung and spread through the body.

Pleural mesothelioma is the most common type of mesothelioma, making up roughly 80% of all cases. There is currently no cure for pleural mesothelioma, but treatments can shrink tumors, ease symptoms, and help patients live longer.

A diagram of pleural mesothelioma. Pleural mesothelioma tumors form in the lining of the lungs after asbestos fibers irritate healthy cells, causing them to mutate into cancerous ones.

A person may develop pleural mesothelioma after breathing in asbestos fibers. Over time, these fibers can damage healthy cells, leading to malignant mesothelioma of the pleura.

A diagram of pleural mesothelioma. Pleural mesothelioma tumors form in the lining of the lungs after asbestos fibers irritate healthy cells, causing them to mutate into cancerous ones.

A person may develop pleural mesothelioma after breathing in asbestos fibers. Over time, these fibers can damage healthy cells, leading to malignant mesothelioma of the pleura.

Veterans with mesothelioma can access compensation, medical care, and other benefits from the VA. Some of the best pleural mesothelioma oncologists (cancer doctors) work with the VA to treat veterans at little to no cost.

Our team can help you file for mesothelioma VA benefits right now.

Quick Facts About Pleural Mesothelioma

  • Pleural mesothelioma patients live for 12-21 months on average. Some may live longer if they are diagnosed and treated before the cancer spreads.
  • Those who worked around asbestos — like construction workers, plumbers, electricians, and U.S. veterans — are at a high risk of pleural mesothelioma.
  • Pleural mesothelioma is not the same disease as asbestos lung cancer. Pleural mesothelioma develops in the lining of the lungs. Asbestos lung cancer affects the lungs themselves.
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What Causes Pleural Mesothelioma?

Asbestos exposure is the biggest risk factor and only known cause of pleural mesothelioma. Asbestos is a very strong, fiber-like substance. It was used to make thousands of products more durable.

However, asbestos fibers may become trapped in the pleural space if someone inhales them. The fibers can then harm healthy cells for decades. The American Cancer Society (ACS) notes that irritation from asbestos causes changes to the cells’ DNA and mutates them into cancer cells.

Asbestos was heavily used by the U.S. military from the 1930s to the early 1980s. The makers of asbestos-based products sold their goods to the military without revealing the dangers. Thousands of veterans are now at risk of pleural mesothelioma because of this.

Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms

One of the first symptoms of pleural mesothelioma is shortness of breath.

Other symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include:

  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Fluid buildup in lung lining (pleural effusion)
  • Lumps under the chest wall
  • Night sweats
  • Persistent cough
  • Pleural thickening
  • Rib pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Upper back pain

Mesothelioma symptoms may not appear until 10-50 years after asbestos exposure since the cancer has a long latency period (time between exposure and symptoms).

U.S. veterans should see a doctor if they were exposed to asbestos decades ago and now have possible symptoms of pleural mesothelioma. More treatments are available to those diagnosed before the cancer spreads and symptoms worsen.

Amy Fair
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 cancerous lumps beneath the skin.

If a doctor thinks you have mesothelioma after this exam, they will likely order imaging tests to see inside your body.

Imaging tests for pleural mesothelioma include:

  • Chest X-ray
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • PET scan
  • PET-CT scan

Doctors will look for possible tumors, buildups of pleural fluid, or other signs of cancer during these scans.

Did you know?

The average time from when mesothelioma symptoms start to getting a diagnosis is 2-3 months.

Doctors can then take a biopsy if they still think you have cancer. A biopsy is the only way to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis. Doctors take a tissue or fluid sample of a possibly cancerous tumor and look at it under a microscope to see if cancer cells are present.

Stages of Pleural Mesothelioma

A doctor points to an ipad while speaking to an older male patient.

Pleural mesothelioma is the only type of mesothelioma that has an official staging system, called the Tumor Node Metastasis (TNM) system. Doctors can see what stage the patient’s cancer is in as part of a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis.

There are four stages of pleural mesothelioma.

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: The cancer reaches nearby lymph nodes and organs.
  • Stage 4: The cancer has spread throughout the body.

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) can get treated to ease symptoms, but long-term survival may not be possible.

Pleural Mesothelioma Cell Types

Pleural mesothelioma tumors can be made up of two different types of cells. Which mesothelioma cell type a patient has greatly affects their health outlook, as some cells are easier to treat than others.

The three cell types of pleural mesothelioma are:

  • Epithelioid (aka Epithelial): 60% prevalence, best prognosis
  • Sarcomatoid: 10% prevalence, poor prognosis
  • Biphasic (aka Mixed): 30% prevalence, intermediate prognosis

Doctors can see which cells are present during a biopsy. Patients may have biphasic mesothelioma if both epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells are present.

Pleural Mesothelioma and Other Asbestos Diseases

Pleural mesothelioma is one of many asbestos-related diseases. You could develop other asbestos diseases alongside pleural mesothelioma due to your asbestos exposure.

Asbestosis

Asbestosis is a noncancerous illness caused by asbestos exposure. This disease causes the lungs to stiffen over time, which makes it harder to breathe.

Nearly 1 in 10 people with asbestosis die of mesothelioma, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Diseases Registry (ATSDR).

Pleural Effusion

A pleural effusion occurs when fluid builds up in the lining of the lungs. Your body normally has a little bit of fluid in between the lungs so they can move properly.

However, your body may produce more fluid than it normally does when cancer cells invade the pleural space. This can lead to difficulty breathing and other problems.

Pleural effusions occur in over 90% of patients with pleural mesothelioma.

Pleural Plaques

Pleural plaques are tiny lumps that form in the lung lining due to asbestos exposure.

Pleural plaques don’t pose a threat to your health and cause no symptoms. That said, you could develop pleural mesothelioma later on if you have pleural plaques since you were exposed to asbestos.

Thirteen of 17 pleural mesothelioma patients also had pleural plaques in a study from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Pleural Thickening

The lung lining can get thicker if it’s irritated or scarred. Asbestos fibers can be one of many things that irritates the pleura and causes it to get thicker. Those with pleural thickening could also be at risk of pleural mesothelioma in these cases.

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Treatment of Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma

The standard treatments for mesothelioma are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Learn about each treatment option below.

Pleural Mesothelioma Surgery

Pleural mesothelioma surgery is considered the most effective treatment method. 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 live longer.

There are two main surgeries doctors use to treat pleural mesothelioma.

1. Extrapleural Pneumonectomy (EPP)

An extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) removes the lung closest to the cancer, all cancer tumors, the pleura, and other diseased tissue from the chest cavity.

An EPP is a very intense procedure. It typically requires 3 hours or more to complete and months to recover from. However, there are many benefits. Patients can live longer and prevent their cancer from reaching distant parts of their body.

Diagram of an extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP). The lung lining (pleura), heart lining (pericardium), diaphragm, lung, and mesothelioma tumors are removed with this surgery. Diagram of an extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP). The lung lining (pleura), heart lining (pericardium), diaphragm, lung, and mesothelioma tumors are removed with this surgery.

2. Pleurectomy With Decortication

A pleurectomy with decortication (P/D) allows doctors to remove cancer tumors, the pleura, and affected tissue in the chest cavity. It notably does not remove a patient’s lung. This allows patients to recover faster and with fewer side effects when compared to an EPP.

Diagram of a pleurectomy with decortication (P/D). The lung lining (pleura) and mesothelioma tumors are removed but the lung is spared.Diagram of a pleurectomy with decortication (P/D). The lung lining (pleura) and mesothelioma tumors are removed but the lung is spared.

Pleural Mesothelioma Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the most effective treatment option if surgery is not possible. Chemotherapy for pleural mesothelioma involves the use of cancer-killing drugs that circulate through the body.

Doctors may use chemotherapy before, during, or after surgery to prevent the cancer from spreading or coming back.

The most common chemotherapy drugs for pleural mesothelioma are pemetrexed and cisplatin. This combination helps patients live for an average of 3 months longer than if only cisplatin is used.

A study from the University of Maryland Medical Center found that pleural mesothelioma patients who received chemotherapy lived for 12-18 months.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy (also known as radiotherapy) uses high-energy X-rays to destroy cancer cells.

A 2019 study found that pleural mesothelioma patients who received aggressive radiotherapy were twice as likely to still be alive 2 years later.

Radiation therapy is also frequently used as a supplement to surgery and chemotherapy.

Multimodal Therapy

Many mesothelioma treatment plans use more than one treatment method. This is known as multimodal therapy. Combining treatments can kill more cancer cells and help patients live longer.

Patients who received a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation lived up to 29 months on average, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Emerging Pleural Mesothelioma Treatments

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 only a few 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. The FDA approved a combination of two immunotherapy drugs — nivolumab (Opdivo®) and ipilimumab (Yervoy®) — as a pleural mesothelioma treatment in October 2020.
  • 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. New treatments tested being studied in clinical trials include gene therapy and photodynamic therapy.

Call (877) 450-8973 now to see what pleural mesothelioma treatments may be right for you.

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 rate is the percentage of patients still alive after a certain period of time.

Find pleural mesothelioma life expectancies by stage and median survival rates below.

Life Expectancy by Stage

StageLife Expectancy
Stage 1-219-21 months
Stage 3-412-16 months

Pleural Mesothelioma Survival Rates

Year(s)Survival Rate
1 Year 73.1%
3 Years 22.9%
5 Years 12.0%
10 Years 4.7%

Many factors affect a pleural mesothelioma prognosis, including cancer stage at the time of diagnosis, a patient’s overall health, and how their body responds to treatment.

It’s important to know that a prognosis isn’t set in stone. 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.

Mesothelioma Veterans GuideGet a FREE Veterans Packet

Get information on:

  • Top Treatment
  • Best Doctors
  • Improving Prognosis

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Top Pleural Mesothelioma Doctors for Veterans

Mesothelioma doctors specifically treat this type of cancer. They will know the best ways to help you live longer and ease your symptoms. Several top pleural mesothelioma doctors have partnered with the VA to treat veterans.

Some of the best pleural mesothelioma doctors are:

  • Dr. Avi Lebenthal

    Dr. Lebenthal treats patients at both Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the VA Boston Healthcare System 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. Taylor Ripley

    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 mesothelioma specialist — picked Dr. Ripley as his replacement.

  • Dr. Robert Cameron

    Dr. Cameron has treated patients at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center for over 20 years. He invented the pleurectomy with decortication (P/D) surgery that’s often used to treat pleural mesothelioma.

    Visit the UCLA Health website to learn more about Dr. Robert Cameron.

Disclaimer

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.

Find a top mesothelioma doctor in your state right now with our doctor match tool.

Help for Veterans With Pleural Mesothelioma

Pleural mesothelioma is very aggressive, but there is hope.

  • Getting treated at a top mesothelioma cancer center can help you live longer and ease your symptoms. There are little to no treatment costs if you have VA Health Care.
  • You may qualify for VA benefits worth $3,000 or more if you were exposed to asbestos while serving in the U.S. military and now have mesothelioma. Some of these benefits can also help your family members.
  • You and your loved ones can get even more money by taking legal action against the makers of asbestos-based products. Mesothelioma legal claims award over $1 million on average, and no legal action is taken against the military.

Learn how you can access life-extending treatments, VA benefits, and compensation with 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. Many pleural 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.

Who is at risk of pleural mesothelioma?

Anyone who was exposed to asbestos could develop pleural mesothelioma later in life.

Those at the greatest risk worked with or around asbestos-containing products on a daily basis for years or decades (such as construction workers, electricians, and veterans).

Some U.S. veterans had a military occupational specialty (MOS) that required them to work with asbestos-based products every day. These veterans have a greater risk of mesothelioma.

Is pleural mesothelioma curable?

Pleural mesothelioma does not have a cure at this time. However, surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy can all help patients live longer and remove as much of the cancer as possible. Contact our team right now for more information.

What are the symptoms of pleural mesothelioma?

Pleural 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.

Don’t ignore these symptoms if you were exposed to asbestos decades ago. The symptoms of pleural mesothelioma are often mistaken for more common conditions at first, allowing the cancer to spread.

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.

Veterans Support Team
Todd Gersten, MD PhotoReviewed by:Todd Gersten, MD

Double Board-Certified Oncologist and Hematologist

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

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 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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