Mesothelioma vs Pleural Plaques

Pleural plaques and mesothelioma are both caused by exposure to asbestos. However, these two asbestos diseases are more different than alike. People with pleural plaques often experience no symptoms and need no treatment. Because of their past asbestos exposure, they are at risk of developing other asbestos diseases, including lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma.

Written and Fact-Checked by: Laura Wright

Mesothelioma vs Pleural Plaques Overview

Mesothelioma and pleural plaques are two different asbestos-related diseases. Even though they are both caused by asbestos fibers, they have vastly different prognoses.

Pleural plaques are chalk-like accumulations of collagen that form in the lining of the lungs (pleura). They are non-cancerous and do not require treatment.

Did You Know?

Pleural plaques are the most common asbestos-related disease.

In contrast, malignant mesothelioma is a rare and incurable cancer that usually develops in the lining of the lungs or abdomen. The average life expectancy for mesothelioma patients is 12-21 months with treatment.

People with mesothelioma usually experience symptoms that mimic the flu like fever, fatigue, and fluid buildup in the chest (pleural effusions).

In many cases, people with pleural plaques do not have any symptoms.

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What Are Pleural Plaques?

When people swallow or inhale microscopic asbestos fibers, the body’s immune system tries to get rid of them. Unfortunately, asbestos fibers can never be broken down or removed. Pleural plaques are a physical manifestation of the body’s attempt to isolate these asbestos fibers.

Pleural plaques are an accumulation of collagen in the lining of the lungs.

They can develop in:

  1. The parietal pleura, which lines the diaphragm and chest wall. Most pleural plaques form here.
  2. The visceral pleura, which lines the inside of the lungs. Pleural plaques are rare in this part of the pleura.

Over time, pleural thickening, calcification, and fibrosis (hardening of tissue) can occur.

Pleural plaques is a type of pleural disease, but it is not a form of cancer. The presence of pleural plaques does not mean that patients have, or will go on to get, a more serious pulmonary disease.

However, people with pleural plaques run the risk of developing other asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma because of their prior asbestos exposure.

Pleural Plaques Symptoms

Most people with pleural plaques do not have any physical symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they are usually mild.

Symptoms of pleural plaques can include:

  • Chest pain
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Slightly diminished lung function

It is important to note that some people struggle with a diagnosis of pleural plaques. They may experience anxiety and other psychological symptoms.

Scientific evidence has not shown that having pleural plaques is connected to developing other more serious lung conditions. However, people who have been exposed to asbestos over the course of their lives have an increased risk of developing other asbestos diseases.

These asbestos diseases include:

Until told otherwise by medical professionals, patients shouldn’t worry about that possibility when they are diagnosed with pleural plaques.

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Diagnosing Mesothelioma vs Pleural Plaques

A mesothelioma diagnosis can be confused with lung cancer, as both of these diseases have similar symptoms. A history of asbestos exposure is red flag for doctors to look for signs of mesothelioma. Most often, doctors identify mesothelioma because of other problems the disease causes.

Early warning signs of mesothelioma include:

  • A cough that doesn’t go away
  • Blood in mucus that is coughed up from the lungs
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of the face or neck veins
  • Tiredness
  • Trouble breathing or swallowing
  • Unexplained loss of appetite or weight loss

During patient examinations, doctors review a patient’s genetics, medical history, and risk factors to figure out if more tests should be ordered and deciphered by specialists.

Imaging tests for a mesothelioma diagnosis include:

  • Bone scans
  • High-resolution computed tomography (CT/CAT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
  • X-rays

Other lab tests, including biopsies and blood tests, take cells from the lung to be examined under a microscope. Mesothelioma doctors look for abnormalities on all scans and tests to rule out the possibility of lung cancer if there is a history of asbestos exposure.

Diagnosing Pleural Plaques

Simple exposure to asbestos does not mean that mesothelioma or other serious diseases should be the assumed diagnosis. Pleural plaques, for example, usually occur when patients have been exposed to asbestos.

Diagnosis of pleural plaques generally happens after a latency period of 20-30 years after initial asbestos exposure. Its severity is usually related to how long the patient was exposed to asbestos.

Patients without chest problems normally don’t need a CT scan or chest X-ray unless it is recommended by a doctor. In most cases, exposure from a CT scan or X-ray is riskier than being diagnosed with pleural plaques.

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Treating Mesothelioma vs Pleural Plaques

Most often, mesothelioma patients undergo more than one form of mesothelioma treatment.

Treatments are based on the stage of the cancer, lung function, a person’s overall health, and specific traits of the subtype of mesothelioma. The treatment order or combination provided to patients is also determined by these factors.

Options for mesothelioma treatment include:

  • ChemotherapyCirculating anti-cancer drugs through the bloodstream kills off mesothelioma cells in its path.
  • Radiation: Radiation therapy can target mesothelioma tumors with high-powered rays, shrinking them and killing off cells.
  • Palliative treatments: Therapies that improve quality of life by easing symptoms are considered palliative treatments for mesothelioma.
  • Surgery: Surgeons can physically resect (remove) mesothelioma tumors.

Pleural Plaques Treatment

Pleural plaques do not require follow-up treatment. For some patients, however, the psychological effects of being diagnosed should be treated.

After being diagnosed with pleural plaques, you or a loved one might experience anxiety or symptoms of stress from the knowledge of the diagnosis. Please talk to your doctor for help dealing with this.

Additionally, smokers with pleural plaques should seek help quitting to reduce the risk of lung cancer and other smoking-related diseases.

Getting a Second Opinion on Mesothelioma vs Pleural Plaques

A second opinion on pleural plaques or mesothelioma may be useful in certain cases. Since this is a non-life-threatening disease and treatment is not needed, a second opinion may help patients for their peace of mind.

For more information on seeking a second opinion on your diagnosis, contact our caring and knowledgeable Patient Advocates today.

Mesothelioma vs Pleural Plaques FAQs

Is pleural plaques the same as mesothelioma?

No, pleural plaques are not the same as mesothelioma.

Both pleural plaques and mesothelioma are asbestos-related diseases, but that’s where the similarities generally end.

Pleural plaques are deposits of collagen in the lining of the lungs (pleura). They are not cancerous or life-threatening and usually do not cause any symptoms. In most cases, doctors do not recommend that people with pleural plaques undergo any kind of treatment.

In contrast, mesothelioma is a rare and devastating cancer that typically develops in the lining of the lungs or abdomen. Mesothelioma patients usually undergo a combination of treatments such as surgery and chemotherapy to relieve symptoms and live longer.

Do pleural plaques lead to mesothelioma?

No, pleural plaques do not lead to mesothelioma.

However, people with pleural plaques are at risk for developing malignant mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases because of their past asbestos exposure.

Written by:

Lead Editor

Laura Wright is a journalist and content strategist with more than 14 years of professional experience. She attended college at the University of Florida, graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2008. Her writing has been featured in The Gainesville Sun and other regional publications throughout Florida.

4 References
  1. British Lung Foundation, “Pleural plaques.” Retrieved from: https://www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/asbestos-related-conditions/pleural-plaques Accessed January 3, 2023.

  2. Cancer Therapy Advisor. “Pleural plaques/Mesothelioma.” Retrieved from: https://www.cancertherapyadvisor.com/home/decision-support-in-medicine/hospital-medicine/pleural-plaques-mesothelioma/#. Accessed on January 3, 2023.

  3. Gaillard F, Yap J, Weerakkody Y, et al. “Pleural plaque.” Reference article, Radiopaedia.org. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.53347/rID-8735. Accessed on January 3, 2023.

  4. Marchiori E, Hochhegger B, Zanetti G. “Pleural calcifications.” J Bras Pneumol. 2018 Nov-Dec;44(6):447. doi: 10.1590/S1806-37562018000000344. PMID: 30726318; PMCID: PMC6459740. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6459740/. Accessed on January 3, 2023.

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