Pleural mesothelioma is a relatively rare type of cancer that is caused by exposure to asbestos. When asbestos is inhaled, the fibers can get lodged in the pleura, or the protective tissue that lines the lungs. Asbestos particles can cause irritation and scar tissue in the pleura that can eventually turn into a malignant (cancerous) tumor.
According to data collected from 1999 to 2018 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of 2,566 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma each year. At Bailey & Glasser, LLP, we understand the emotional toll that a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis has on a patient and his or her family. Our attorneys can connect you to vital resources and help secure the financial compensation that you need to move forward.
What Is Pleural Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is cancer of the mesothelial tissues – the membranes that encase and cushion most internal organs, including the lungs, abdominal cavity and heart. Mesothelioma is a fatal and terminal type of cancer with no known cure. The cause of mesothelioma is exposure to a naturally occurring silicate mineral known as asbestos.
Pleural mesothelioma specifically refers to cancerous tumors located in the pleura, or the lining of the lungs. It is the most commonly diagnosed type of mesothelioma. The other three types are peritoneal mesothelioma (the lining of the abdominal cavity), pericardial mesothelioma (the sac around the heart) and testicular mesothelioma (the tissue surrounding the testes).
Pleural Mesothelioma Facts and Statistics
Data from the CDC shows that in 2018 (the most recent year data is available), 82.1 percent of all newly diagnosed mesothelioma cases were pleural mesothelioma. A total of 51,338 people were diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma from 1999 to 2018, equating to an average of 2,566 new cases per year.
Pleural mesothelioma can cause myriad problems with the lungs and respiratory system. The body cannot process asbestos particles or filter them out. With consistent exposure, asbestos can accumulate in the pleura, causing inflammation, a buildup of scar tissue and genetic changes to the cells over time that lead to cancer growth.
Tumors on the surface of the lung and chest can appear and press on surrounding nerves, causing chronic pain. Tumors can also press against the lungs, causing a cough and shortness of breath. Pleural thickening, where the membrane surrounding the lungs gets thicker, can also place pressure on the lungs. Finally, a buildup of fluid in the chest cavity (pleural effusion) can squeeze the lungs and make it more difficult to breathe.
What Causes Pleural Mesothelioma?
Asbestos is the cause of pleural mesothelioma. Asbestos is a group of six silicate minerals that exist naturally in deposits around the world. There are different types of asbestos, but most fibers are small, needle-like in appearance and not visible to the naked eye. Asbestos was widely used for commercial purposes in the 1800s and 1900s until it was regulated by the U.S. federal government in the late 1970s. Unfortunately, millions of properties and products still contain asbestos today. According to the United States Geological Survey, 300 metric tons of chrysotile asbestos were imported in 2020.
If an individual inhales asbestos fibers into his or her nose or mouth, the microscopic particles can get stuck in the lining of the lungs and remain there for decades, eventually irritating the tissue enough to create tumors. Since it can take several decades for pleural mesothelioma to arise, many people do not realize they were exposed to asbestos until it is too late.
The people who are most at risk of being diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma are those who live or work around asbestos regularly. Occupations with the highest risks of asbestos exposure include factory and manufacturing jobs, chemical plants, construction, building, HVAC and insulation work, military service, shipyard workers, and automobile mechanics. However, asbestos containing products were used in the construction of many U.S. schools and universities. Therefore, students and teachers may also be at risk of exposure to dangerous asbestos fibers.
How Can You Prevent Pleural Mesothelioma?
You can prevent mesothelioma by avoiding exposure to asbestos. If you work in an occupation that frequently involves asbestos, for example, ask your employer for adequate personal protective equipment. This includes a respirator that is specifically designed to filter microscopic fibers such as asbestos particles.
If you engage in an activity that could put you at risk of asbestos exposure, such as renovating an old home, use a respirator and other protective gear. If you think your home might be contaminated with asbestos, do not disturb the area, as this could put dust that contains asbestos into the air. Call a professional to safely remove and dispose of the asbestos material for you.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Pleural Mesothelioma?
It takes anywhere from 20-60+ years after the date of asbestos exposure for the signs of pleural mesothelioma to appear. The time between the date of exposure and when symptoms arise is known as the latency period. Mesothelioma has one of the longest latency periods of any disease.
Once asbestos exposure has resulted in a tumor in the lungs, the victim may notice the following signs and symptoms of pleural mesothelioma:
- Persistent dry cough
- Coughing up blood
- Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
- Pain or tightness in the chest
- Lower back pain
- Swelling in the face or neck
- Lumps beneath the skin of the chest
- Night sweats
- Chronic fatigue
- Weight loss
- Clubbing of the toes or fingertips
If you have potential symptoms of pleural mesothelioma and believe that you were once exposed to asbestos – such as at a job you had years ago – tell your doctor. Your doctor may recommend you to a mesothelioma expert or oncologist who specializes in this type of cancer for tests to rule out or confirm a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis.
How Is Pleural Mesothelioma Diagnosed?
The only test that can confirm a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis is a tissue biopsy. However, a patient will go through other steps before the biopsy stage. Diagnosis begins with a standard physical examination, where a doctor examines the patient, inquires about symptoms and asks about any history dealing with asbestos.
Then, the doctor moves to imaging scans to search for signs of lung disease or a tumor. Common scans are x-rays, CT scans and MRIs. These scans will show the doctor whether the patient has tumors in the lungs and if the cancer has already spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body. Next, the doctor will order a blood test to search for biomarkers that can rule out other types of cancers.
At this stage, if mesothelioma is still suspected, a general practitioner may refer the patient to an oncologist or mesothelioma specialist. This physician will take a tissue sample for a biopsy, where the sample is analyzed under a microscope. A tissue biopsy is the only test that can positively identify malignant mesothelioma.
What Are the Stages of Pleural Mesothelioma?
Once a doctor or specialist confirms a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis, he or she will classify the disease into one of four stages based on how much the cancer has spread. Identifying the stage of cancer is important, as this can give the patient an idea of how much the cancer has metastasized and what this may mean for treatment options and prognosis.
The sooner a diagnosis is made, the better, as detecting cancer prior to metastasis presents greater opportunities for treatment. Stage I pleural mesothelioma is the least severe, while stage IV is the most severe. At stage I, the cancer cells are still localized, meaning they have not spread to any part of the body and are only located in the pleura. Diagnoses at this stage are relatively rare, as most patients do not experience any noticeable symptoms this early.
In stage II, pleural mesothelioma cancer cells have spread to surrounding tissues, such as nearby lymph nodes, one lung or the chest cavity. In stage III, the cancer has metastasized even further, into nearby organs and multiple lymph nodes. Even at stage III, a patient may still be eligible for surgery as a treatment option.
The final stage, stage IV, is the most advanced and difficult to treat. The cancer may reach the entire body at this stage, including sites that are distant from the cancer’s origin in the lungs. The symptoms at this stage are often pronounced. Unfortunately, treatment options are often limited in stage IV, resulting in a worsened prognosis and survival rate.
What Is the Average Life Expectancy for Someone With Pleural Mesothelioma?
The average life expectancy for a patient with pleural mesothelioma is currently 12 to 21 months with treatments such as surgery and chemotherapy. The prognosis for a patient who is diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma depends on several factors, including the stage at which the cancer is diagnosed.
Early detection is best in terms of treatment options and life expectancy, according to Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center:
- With stage I pleural mesothelioma, the median life expectancy is 22.2 months from the date of diagnosis.
- At stage II, median life expectancy decreases to about 20 months.
- Stage III mesothelioma has a median life expectancy of 18 months.
- Life expectancy at stage IV drops to around 15 months.
Keep in mind that these averages do not express what a patient’s life with pleural mesothelioma will actually look like. Every patient and mesothelioma case is unique. Some patients experience a survival rate of 10 years or longer from the date of diagnosis. Your specific prognosis is something that you must discuss with your doctor or a mesothelioma expert.
Is Pleural Mesothelioma Curable? What Treatments Are Available?
Sadly, there is no known cure for pleural mesothelioma. It is a fatal type of cancer that will eventually take the patient’s life. However, multiple treatment options are available that can extend an individual’s life expectancy and improve quality of life.
Surgery is the removal of tumors and cancer tissue. The two most common procedures for pleural mesothelioma are extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) and pleurectomy and decortication (P/D). An EPP removes the affected lung and part of the membrane covering the heart, diaphragm and chest. A P/D removes the pleura from around the lung and tumors or fibrous tissue from the surface of the lung.
Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy
Chemotherapy uses a mix of powerful chemicals and medications – either taken orally or administered intravenously – to shrink or kill cancer cells. This can be done alone or in combination with surgery in a multimodal approach to treatment. Radiation therapy is similar to chemotherapy, except that it uses high doses of radiation (similar to x-rays) to kill cancer cells rather than drugs.
There are also options available for palliative care. Rather than being curative, palliative care focuses on making a patient more comfortable for the remainder of his or her life. One possibility is talc pleurodesis, which seals the space between the lung and the wall of the chest to prevent fluid from building up there, relieving pressure on the lungs. Relieving pleural effusion may also be accomplished with thoracentesis: inserting a tube or needle into the pleural cavity to drain extra fluid.
Thanks to modern medicine, researchers are constantly learning new things about mesothelioma and developing clinical trials to experiment with groundbreaking treatments. To find out if you are eligible for a pleural mesothelioma clinical trial, consult with your doctor. Hope is available for the future as a pleural mesothelioma patient.
Are You Eligible for Financial Compensation for Pleural Mesothelioma?
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, you may be eligible for financial compensation through one or more outlets. Mesothelioma civil cases are based on the allegation that one or more parties should have protected you from asbestos exposure.
If this is the case, you may be entitled to a monetary recovery from:
- An asbestos trust fund: If the company that exposed you to asbestos – such as a previous employer or manufacturing company – has gone bankrupt or is out of business, an asbestos trust fund could still compensate you.
- A personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit: You may have grounds to file an individual lawsuit, multidistrict litigation or class action in pursuit of financial compensation for pleural mesothelioma, depending on the circumstances.
- Workers’ compensation insurance claim: If you were exposed to asbestos in the workplace, you could potentially file a workers’ compensation claim. These benefits are generally available retroactively even if you have not worked for the employer for many years.
Finding out that you or someone you love has pleural mesothelioma can turn your life upside down. If you have recently received this diagnosis, learn more about this illness, treatment options and available financial compensation by consulting with a lawyer at Bailey & Glasser, LLP. Our asbestos attorneys can help you seek justice.