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Pleural Mesothelioma | Simmons Mesothelioma Foundation

Simmons Mesothelioma Foundation

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Pleural Mesothelioma

Find a more detailed look at pleural mesothelioma through resources provided by the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute.

Pleural mesothelioma is by far the most common type of mesothelioma. According to the American Cancer Society, three out of four cases of mesothelioma are of this variety. While pleural mesothelioma is the most common form of this disease, it’s still relatively rare – only about 1,500 to 2,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.1


Scientists have linked pleural mesothelioma to the mineral asbestos. In fact, about 70-80 percent of all mesothelioma cases are patients who’ve had a history of asbestos exposure at work.2 When asbestos particles are inhaled and get trapped in the lining or “pleura” of the lung, they can react with the pleura’s mesothelial cells, and cause small cancerous tumors. These tumors then start to spread and thicken, eventually overtaking the lung.


Because symptoms often don’t surface until 20 or 40 years after initial asbestos exposure, most pleural mesothelioma cases go undiagnosed until they reach their final stages. When symptoms do finally emerge, they often lead to a misdiagnosis since they are common to so many other diseases. These symptoms can include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Pleural effusion
  • Unexplained weight loss

When symptoms persist, doctors use a variety of methods to diagnose pleural mesothelioma including:

  • X-ray
  • Compound Tomography (CT)
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  • Blood Tests
  • Fluid Tests
  • Biopsies


Since pleural mesothelioma is often not diagnosed until it has spread across the entire pleura, it can be difficult to treat. The four treatment options usually presented to pleural mesothelioma patients are:

  • Surgery – This is generally considered the most effective option, but can only be performed if the cancer is contained to a small area. The two most common types of pleural mesothelioma surgery are extrapleural pneumonectomy and pleurectomy. While extrapleural pneumonectomy is the more effective option, it is also more intense and causes major complication in as many as 1 in 4 patients.3
  • Chemotherapy – Many times, chemotherapy supplements surgery to kill the cancer cells that the doctor couldn’t remove. Chemotherapy can be injected into the bloodstream, swallowed through a pill or pumped directly into the chest cavity.
  • Radiation – Radiation does not work well on cancer that has spread across a wide area, and therefore is ineffective against pleural mesothelioma. Radiation is many times used to ease symptoms like shortness of breath and bleeding.
  • Clinical Trials – Researchers across the world are looking for pleural mesothelioma patients willing to test possible new treatments. Learn more about the latest mesothelioma clinical trials by conducting a search through the National Cancer Institute’s online database.

For a more detailed discussion of treatment options, visit the mesothelioma treatment page.


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