Malignant pleural mesothelioma impacts the lining of the lungs (pleura). Symptoms include chest pain, coughing, and shortness of breath. Patients live for 1-2 years on average and sometimes longer with treatment. Diagnosed veterans can get medical care from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
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.
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 Mesothelioma of the Pleura
- Pleural mesothelioma cancer patients live for 12-21 months on average. Fortunately, some may live longer if they are diagnosed and treated before the cancer spreads.
- People who worked around asbestos — such as 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 impacts the lungs directly.
If you are a veteran who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma of the pleura, you can request a free copy of our Veterans Packet to learn more about top doctors and treatments. Ask for your Veterans Packet today.
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What Causes Mesothelioma of the Pleura?
Asbestos exposure is the most significant risk factor and the 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 changes 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 mesothelioma of the pleura is shortness of breath.
Other symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include:
- Chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- Fluid buildup in the 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 this form of cancer has a long latency period (time between exposure and symptoms).
U.S. military 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.
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.”
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Diagnosing Pleural Mesothelioma
Doctors diagnose mesothelioma through a multi-step process. The first step of this process typically involves monitoring symptoms.
If a doctor believes you may have mesothelioma, you will likely be asked to schedule an appointment for imaging tests to look at the organs inside your body.
Imaging tests for malignant 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.
The average time from when mesothelioma symptoms start to receiving a diagnosis is 2-3 months.
Doctors can then take a biopsy if they 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 Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma
Malignant 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 malignant 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 (or epithelial): 60% prevalence (best prognosis)
- Sarcomatoid: 10% prevalence (poor prognosis)
- Biphasic (or 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.
Malignant 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 is a noncancerous illness caused by asbestos exposure. This disease causes the lungs to stiffen over time, which makes it harder to breathe.
Nearly 10% of people with asbestosis die of mesothelioma, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).
A pleural effusion occurs when fluid builds up in the lining of the lungs. Your body usually has a little fluid between the lungs so they can move properly.
However, your body may produce more fluid than it usually 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 are tiny lumps that form in the lung lining due to asbestos exposure.
Pleural plaques don’t pose a threat to your health or cause symptoms. That said, you could develop pleural mesothelioma later on if you have pleural plaques since you were exposed to asbestos.
More than 76% of pleural mesothelioma patients also had pleural plaques in a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
The lung lining can get thicker if it is irritated or scarred by asbestos fibers. People with pleural thickening could also be at risk of pleural mesothelioma.
Veterans with pleural mesothelioma can receive our free Veterans Packet to learn more about mesothelioma specialists and treatments. Request your copy today to explore your health care options.
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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.
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 compared to an EPP.
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 (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 remain alive 2 years later.
Radiation therapy is also frequently used as a supplement to surgery and chemotherapy.
Many mesothelioma treatment plans involve 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 who 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 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
|Stage 1-2||19-21 months|
|Stage 3-4||12-16 months|
Pleural Mesothelioma Survival Rates
Many factors affect a pleural mesothelioma prognosis, including the cancer stage at the time of diagnosis, the patient’s overall health, and how their body responds to treatment.
Even with medical expertise, a prognosis is not set in stone. Some pleural mesothelioma survivors have lived for years past their prognosis.
Learn how to improve your pleural mesothelioma prognosis in our free veterans packet.
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Top Pleural Mesothelioma Doctors for Veterans
Mesothelioma doctors specifically treat this type of cancer. They will know how to help you live longer and ease your symptoms. Several top pleural mesothelioma doctors have partnered with the VA to treat veterans.
Find a top mesothelioma doctor in your state right now with our doctor match tool.
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- Washington DC
- West Virginia
Speak with our trusted advocates to learn more about mesothelioma specialists in your state.
Help for Veterans With Pleural Mesothelioma
Pleural mesothelioma is very aggressive, but there is hope.
Here are a few takeaways for veterans with this terrible cancer.
- 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 may be able to 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 initially expected. Pleural mesothelioma patients may also be able to achieve long-term survival, depending on their 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 daily. 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 progresses, more symptoms like coughing up blood may occur.
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.