by EBSCO Medical Review Board


Pleural mesothelioma is cancer of the membrane (pleura) that lines the outside of the lungs and the inside of the chest.

Pleura of the Lungs
Pleura of the Lungs
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Cancer happens when cells in the body divide without control or order. A mass of tissue can form when this happens. It is called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant tumors. They can invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer. It is almost always caused by being around asbestos. This is a loose mineral that is found in building materials and car parts.

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk are:

  • Repeat exposure to asbestos, usually on the job
  • Living with a person who works near asbestos
  • Being around other hazardous fibers, such as erionite
  • Exposure to ionizing radiation


This cancer can take up to 40 years to happen. It may cause:

  • Problems breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing
  • A lump in the chest wall
  • Weight loss
  • Tiredness
  • Sweating


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You may also be asked about any exposure to asbestos. A physical exam will be done. You may be referred to a doctor who treats the lungs or one who treats cancer.

Blood tests may be done to look for signs of cancer.

Images will be taken of the chest or abdomen. This can be done with:

A biopsy will be done to confirm the diagnosis. Fluid from the chest cavity may also be tested.

More tests will be needed to find out if the cancer has spread. This is called staging. It helps guide treatment.


Treatment will be based on the stage of cancer. The plan will often have more than one type of therapy. Choices are:

  • Surgery to remove the tumor and some tissue around it
  • Chemotherapy to kill cancer cells using drugs
  • Radiation therapy to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors

Pleural fluid caused by the tumor will be removed to ease breathing. This is repeated as needed.


The only known way to prevent this cancer is to avoid asbestos and hazardous fibers.

To avoid exposure:

  • Use safety equipment and precautions on the job.
  • Take steps to avoid bringing asbestos dust home on clothing.
  • Hire a professional to remove asbestos material in the home.


American Lung Association 

National Cancer Institute 


Canadian Cancer Society 

Cancer Care Ontario 


Baas P, Fennell D, et al; ESMO Guidelines Committee. Malignant pleural mesothelioma: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Ann Oncol. 2015 Sep;26 Suppl 5:v31-9.

Malignant mesothelioma treatment (adult). National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Accessed December 31, 2020.

Malignant pleural mesothelioma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed December 31, 2020.

Mesothelioma. American Lung Association website. Available at: Accessed December 31, 2020.

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