Pleural mesothelioma is the form of the disease that affects the pleura, a type of mesothelial tissue. The pleura is a thin membrane that lines a person’s lungs and chest cavity. It holds a layer of fluid that allows a person’s lungs to slide smoothly along their chest as they breathe. Asbestos fibers can disrupt this membrane, and eventually result in pleural mesothelioma.
The fibers begin to cause the disease when a person inhales them. Once that happens, they embed themselves in the pleural layer, and begin to cause irritation and inflammation. Eventually, this leads to the formation of scar tissue, which can cause the development of tumors in the pleura.
Pleural mesothelioma is the most type of mesothelioma, and makes up approximately 75 percent of reported cases. However, even this common form of the disease can be difficult to diagnose. The symptoms have a long latency period, taking between 20 to 50 years to develop in most cases. Furthermore, even when the symptoms to start to appear, they often resemble a much less serious disease.
Pleural mesothelioma has a variety of symptoms that patients commonly present. Most of these symptoms relate to a buildup of extra fluid in the pleural layer. Symptoms can include:
· chest pain,
· persistent cough,
· lumps under the chest,
· fluid buildup in the lining of the lungs,
· shortness of breath,
· coughing up blood,
· painful breathing,
· reduced chest expansion,
· weight loss, and
· night sweats.
Many patients do not initially assume that their disease is mesothelioma because of the largely innocuous symptoms and long time period between asbestos exposure and symptom development. Consequently, anyone who believes that they may have been exposed to asbestos should alert their doctor so that their condition can be monitored.
The diagnosis often begins with a physical exam, which may allow the doctor to determine if fluid has begun to build up in the patient’s lungs. If the doctor discovers signs of fluid entering the pleura, they may move on to ordering imaging tests or blood tests. Imaging tests involve the use of x-rays, magnetic fields, or radioactive particles to develop images of the patient’s internal organs. These images can detect the thickening of the pleura that accompanies mesothelioma. Doctors can also use blood tests as another step to check the diagnosis, by looking for elevated levels of certain chemicals in the blood that may signal the presence of the disease.
If the results of these tests point towards mesothelioma, doctors may move on to a biopsy for confirmation. During a biopsy, the doctor removes some of the fluid or tissue from around the lung, and tests the sample in a lab to check for the presence of mesothelioma.
If a patient does have pleural mesothelioma then doctors can use one of several treatment options. Surgical treatment may work for some patients if their lungs function well enough that removing some of the tissue will be safe for them. Patients can also undergo chemotherapy, which uses a wide array of different medications to treat the disease. Finally, patients can also receive treatment from radiation therapy, which involves focusing targeted radiation towards the cancer cells.