Pleural tumors are tumors located in the pleura, the thin membrane that surrounds the lungs. Most are cancerous, although benign pleural tumors do exist. Some pleural tumors are primary tumors, meaning they originate in the pleura. However, most cancerous pleural tumors are metastatic, meaning they originated somewhere else in the body and traveled to the pleura.
The most common primary pleural tumor is diffuse malignant mesothelioma – a cancer most strongly associated with exposure to asbestos. The rate of mesothelioma in the United States increased from the 1970s to the early 1990s, but has been decreasing since then as the use of asbestos has declined. Mesothelioma patients tend to be over age 65, and are four times more likely to be male than female.
General symptoms of pleural tumors include chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, and unexplained weight loss. In some pleural tumors, fluid collects around the lungs causing shortness of breath or low blood oxygen levels. Those symptoms may be treated with a thoracentesis, a procedure that removes the fluid, making it easier to breathe. Pleural tumors are usually treated in a multimodality manner with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. In the case of benign, localized pleural tumors, surgery is often the mainstay.