Known to develop in the thin lining that surrounds the lungs called the pleura, pleural mesothelioma is the most common form of mesothelioma and can be difficult to treat. This type of mesothelioma accounts for about 75 percent of all asbestos-related cancer diagnoses.
Pleural mesothelioma develops after a patient is exposed to asbestos, a lightweight fiber that was commonly used because of its heat- and fire-resistant properties. For most patients, asbestos exposure happens at work over long periods of time. They unwittingly breathe in the needle-like fibers and they settle in the lungs. Over a period of decades, the asbestos fibers irritate the pleura, causing scar tissue and the unwieldy division of cells. This causes cancer. The most common pleural mesothelioma victims are older men who have worked in factory, construction or military settings for years. In addition, their family members can be exposed to asbestos fibers secondhand, through hair and clothes.
Pleural Mesothelioma Disease Symptoms
Often, pleural mesothelioma goes undetected for years because the disease remains dormant while it multiplies and expands. It’s not until the later stages that pleural mesothelioma symptoms become apparent. Typically, the beginning symptoms are mistaken for less serious respiratory diseases like the flu or bronchitis and the mesothelioma gets misdiagnosed.
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in the lower back
- Severe coughing and coughing up blood
- Difficulty swallowing
- Unexplained weight loss
- Extreme fatigue
Symptoms of Pleural Mesothelioma
Of all the symptoms, the most common are shortness of breath, chest pains and a fluid buildup, also called pleural effusion.
Testing For Pleural Mesothelioma
For most doctors, diagnosing mesothelioma is difficult. That’s because they don’t often see the disease and are reluctant to make such a diagnosis. Doctors often use physical exams as the first line of a diagnosis. From there, they order a variety of tests that could further identify the disease:
- Diagnostic imaging – If pleural mesothelioma is suspected, patients must undergo chest X-rays and CT scans for a more in-depth look at the chest cavity. This allows physicians to see cancerous tumors and spots. In addition, a PET scan is used to identify benign (non cancerous) and malignant (cancerous) growths.
- Biopsies – This invasive procedure allows physicians to remove parts of the damaged pleura for further testing. A hollow needle is used to collect pleural fluid and other membranes to look for cancer markers.
Best Known Pleural Mesothelioma Treatments
Historically, pleural mesothelioma has been managed with traditional cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation. In the early stages of the disease, patients may be eligible for a pleurectomy/decortication (P/D) or an extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPPP), which include the surgical removal of the pleura, a damaged lung and the accompanying tumors. For those patients with later stages of the disease, chemotherapy and radiation are used. Sometimes they are used to quell the disease process, but more frequently they are used in palliative care.
Often, the course of treatment is multimodal, which is a combination of several types of treatment. Experts agree that the pleural mesothelioma survival rates can be greatly improved it the treatments are combined and individualized.