Pleural Mesothelioma

Pleural mesothelioma is the most common form of the cancer and approximately 65 to 75 percent of all mesothelioma patients are diagnosed with this type of mesothelioma. Because it is the most prevalent form of the cancer, it has been studied and researched more extensively than other varieties.

What is Pleural Mesothelioma?

The pleura is a membrane consisting of two layers, the visceral and the parietal layers. These layers provide protection for the chest cavity and lungs. The outer parietal layer lines the entire chest cavity as well as the diaphragm while the inner visceral layer lines the lungs. Pleural mesothelioma can develop in one layer or both, though the parietal surface is most often affected. The right lung, given its larger size, is also more often involved than the left lung.

How Does the Disease Develop?

Pleural mesothelioma is almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure. Those who worked with asbestos or were exposed to the mineral in an occupational setting or through military service are often among those diagnosed with the cancer.

Pleural mesothelioma develops when tiny asbestos fibers are inhaled through the nose or mouth and become lodged in the pleural membrane. Once inhaled, the fibers cannot be expelled and become imbedded in the membrane, causing inflammation or infection. Eventually,  cancerous tumors may form and a mesothelioma diagnosis may occur.

Symptoms of Pleural Mesothelioma

Patients with pleural mesothelioma often do not demonstrate symptoms of mesothelioma for 20 to 50 years after initial exposure to asbestos occurred. Early symptoms are often mistaken for other less serious ailments, such as influenza or a bronchial infection.

Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma may include:

  • Chest pain
  • A dry, unproductive cough
  • Wheezing
  • Hoarseness or a raspy voice
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath, even at rest
  • Pleural effusion (fluid around the lungs)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

Pleural Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Those who experience mesothelioma symptoms will likely visit their family doctor first to try to determine why they are ill. During this visit, it is essential to provide the doctor with a full medical and occupational history, and inform them of possible exposure to asbestos. This may lead to an earlier mesothelioma diagnosis which may help with treatment options.  

Once the doctor suspects pleural mesothelioma, an imaging test, such as an X-ray or CT-scan, will typically be requested to pinpoint the location of the cancer and determine whether or not it has spread to other areas of the body. Fluid and tissue tests, known as biopsies, are then often conducted to examine tissue and officially determine the type of cancer present in a patient’s body.

Treatment of Pleural Mesothelioma

Following a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis, a patient will be referred to an oncologist and perhaps other doctors, including a thoracic surgeon, who are skilled in the treatment of this type of cancer. These doctors will discuss the condition of a patient and help determined the specific course of treatment for a patient.

Most often, treatment for pleural mesothelioma includes of surgery to remove tumors or an entire lung, chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of all three. Because the disease is often not diagnosed until it has reached its later stages, treatment options are limited, though research has begun to open more avenues. Patients can also participate in clinical trials that are designed to test new medicines or treatments.


Though prognosis for patients with pleural mesothelioma is generally poor, research into new treatment options continue to instill hope in mesothelioma patients and their families. An estimated 10 percent of mesothelioma patients live for five years, though the average pleural mesothelioma patient often passes away within a year of diagnosis. Though a cure does not exist for pleural mesothelioma, treatment options can help prolong life and relieve symptoms. For additional information about improving mesothelioma life expectancy, please fill out the packet request form on this page.