What is pleural mesothelioma?

Pleural mesothelioma is a rare cancer that grows around the lungs and chest. Asbestos exposure causes most cases. Malignant (cancerous) pleural mesothelioma forms in the pleura. This thin tissue membrane lines the walls of the chest and covers the lungs.

The condition gets its name from the mesothelium, a lining that protects your internal organs. The mesothelium produces a lubricant that keeps organs from sticking together. Cancer that forms in any part of the mesothelium is called mesothelioma.

How common is pleural mesothelioma?

Approximately 3,000 Americans receive a mesothelioma diagnosis every year. Pleural mesothelioma accounts for 3 out of 4 of these cancers.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is the name for a group of strong natural mineral fibers that are fire- and chemical-resistant. Builders and manufacturers have used asbestos for years. The fibers are in shingles, floor tiles and ceilings in many homes. Manufacturers use asbestos in automotive brake pads and linings, among many other uses. Asbestos fibers are only harmful when they’re airborne. Undisturbed asbestos products generally aren’t dangerous.

Who is at risk for pleural mesothelioma?

Asbestos naturally occurs in air, water and soil. Almost everyone breathes in small amounts of asbestos throughout their lives. This slight exposure doesn’t increase your risk of cancer.

Most people who develop pleural mesothelioma have had high levels of asbestos exposure over a long time. Typically, these exposures occur while on the job.

Professions most at risk for asbestos exposure include:

  • Automotive, factory and railway workers.
  • Building renovators and demolition crews.
  • Construction workers and builders, including shipbuilding.
  • Firefighters.
  • Insulation manufacturers and installers.
  • Miners.
  • Plumbers.

What causes pleural mesothelioma?

For eight in 10 people who have pleural mesothelioma, asbestos exposure is the cause. But most people who have been exposed to asbestos never develop mesothelioma. Rarely, high levels of radiation — such as treatment for another cancer — can cause pleural mesothelioma.

Airborne asbestos fibers break down into tiny particles too small to see. When you breathe them in, the particles settle in your lungs. These particles can cause scarring and inflammation. In some cases, they cause cell changes that lead to cancer.

Intact materials containing asbestos are safe. Asbestos only poses a health risk when disturbing the material releases the fibers into the air.

What are the symptoms of pleural mesothelioma?

It can take 30 to 50 years for pleural mesothelioma to develop after asbestos exposure. Early signs of pleural mesothelioma can be bothersome but easy to dismiss. The main indications are ongoing chest pain and shortness of breath.

Other symptoms include:

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