What Is Pleural Mesothelioma?

What Is Pleural Mesothelioma?

Pleural mesothelioma is a cancer of the membranes that surround the lungs. This rare cancer is typically caused by asbestos exposure. The cancer puts pressure on the lungs, making breathing difficult. Sometimes fluid collects in the chest. On average, life expectancy is about 18 months with treatment, but it depends on many factors, including how advanced the cancer is and whether surgery is possible.

Stages of Pleural Mesothelioma


When diagnosing pleural mesothelioma, doctors conduct various tests to determine the cancer stage. Staging ranges from I to IV according to the cancer location and how far it has spread. Stage I pleural mesothelioma is limited to one lung. In stage IV, the cancer has spread to areas of the body outside the chest.

  • Stage I. Cancer is found on one side of the chest, in the thin tissue covering the chest wall and one lung, and possibly other nearby areas, including the diaphragm, lung tissue, and chest wall, but has not spread to any lymph nodes. 
  • Stage II. Cancer remains on one side of the chest but has spread to chest lymph nodes on that side.
  • Stage III. Cancer remains in the chest but has spread to lymph nodes and farther sites, possibly reaching the pleura and lymph nodes on the other side of the chest and the spine and through the sac (lining) around the heart.
  • Stage IV. Cancer is found outside the chest, including in the peritoneum, bones, liver, lymph nodes outside the chest, or other parts of the body.

Signs & Symptoms of Pleural Mesothelioma


Pleural mesothelioma can take 20 years or longer to develop. Talk to your doctor about early signs of pleural mesothelioma, as well as your health history and any exposure to asbestos at work or home. 

Signs and symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain under the rib cage
  • Persistent cough
  • Lumps under the chest wall
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Unexplained weight loss

What Causes Pleural Mesothelioma?


Like all cancers, pleural mesothelioma is caused by disruption to the body’s cells that causes them to grow out of control. About 70 to 80% of people with pleural mesothelioma have known exposure to high levels of asbestos. When a person breathes in airborne asbestos, small mineral fibers settle deep in the lungs and cause inflammation and scarring. This, in turn, may trigger cellular changes leading to cancer. 

Causes of pleural mesothelioma include:

  • Asbestos exposure. This is the most common cause of pleural mesothelioma. 
  • Radiation exposure. In some studies, high doses of radiation during treatment for other cancers have been linked to mesothelioma.
  • Genetic changes. Mutations in the gene called BAP1 have been linked to mesothelioma.

Risk Factors for Pleural Mesothelioma

Risk Factors

Asbestos exposure, especially at a young age, over a long period, or at high levels, is the main risk factor for pleural mesothelioma. 

Workers at risk of asbestos exposure include: 

  • Some miners
  • Electricians
  • Steamfitters
  • Pipefitters
  • Plumbers
  • Insulation manufacturers and installers
  • Shipyard workers
  • Demolition workers
  • Brake mechanics
  • Airplane pilots and mechanics
  • Home remodelers

Other risk factors include:

  • Genetics and medical history. Underlying factors may increase a person’s risk of developing pleural mesothelioma when exposed to asbestos. These include a person’s genetic makeup or having had radiation treatments in the past. 
  • Environment. Living with someone who is exposed to asbestos at work also increases risk because the mineral fibers can be carried home on clothing and become airborne.

Pleural Mesothelioma Prevention


Preventing asbestos exposure is the best way to reduce your risk of pleural mesothelioma. If you might be exposed to asbestos at work, or if you live in or are remodeling an older home, take these steps:

  • Wear protective equipment in jobs with asbestos exposure.
  • Change out of work clothes and shower before taking a break or going home.
  • Hire a qualified contractor to remove asbestos from your home rather than doing it yourself.
Get Care

Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Pleural Mesothelioma Care

At NewYork-Presbyterian, we understand that suspected cancer can be scary. Please get in touch if you believe you have been exposed to asbestos. Our expert oncologists can evaluate your exposure risk and offer advice on preventing future exposure.