Pleural plaques are the result of an accumulation of collagen in the lining of the lungs (pleura), according to a University of California San Diego Professor of Radiology. They are nearly always caused by asbestos but may have a latency period of up to 20-30 years after initial exposure. Unlike the deadly cancer mesothelioma, pleural plaques are benign (non-cancerous).
What Are Pleural Plaques?
Pleural plaques are chalky buildups of collagen, a protein naturally found in the body. Pleural plaques usually develop as part of the body’s natural immune response from being exposed to asbestos.
When asbestos fibers are inhaled or swallowed, the body’s immune system attempts to eliminate them. However, asbestos fibers are so strong that they can never be broken down and so small that they cannot be removed.
While asbestos fibers can settle in different parts of the body, pleural plaques can form when they settle in the pleura (the lining of the lungs).
There are two parts of the pleura:
- The parietal pleura: This part of the pleura lines the diaphragm and chest wall. Most pleural plaques develop here.
- The visceral pleura: The visceral pleura lines the inside of the lungs. Though rare, pleural plaques can also develop in this part of the pleura.
These fibers slowly irritate healthy lung tissue depending on where they settle in the pleura. Over time, the body’s immune response to these fibers causes pleural thickening, the hardening of collagen, and the formation of scar tissue.
Pleural plaques rarely cause symptoms, but in some cases, chest pain when breathing or a persistent cough may be reported. These symptoms are generally mild.
Are Pleural Plaques Harmful?
No — unlike some other asbestos-related diseases, pleural plaques are generally not harmful.
Most doctors suggest that patients with pleural plaques do not need any form of medical intervention.
However, because pleural plaques often develop due to past exposure to asbestos, they may mean victims have an increased risk of related conditions, including asbestos-related lung diseases or malignant (cancerous) mesothelioma.
Pleural plaques are known as a marker of asbestos exposure. A marker can help doctors confirm that someone was exposed to asbestos.
Quick Fact About Pleural Plaques
- Pleural plaques occur in 50% of people who suffered from long-term asbestos exposure, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Causes of Pleural Plaques
Researchers believe that asbestos exposure is the main cause of pleural plaques.
In most cases, pleural plaques will develop only after prolonged asbestos exposure. Because of this, those who regularly worked in asbestos-heavy jobs are at a higher risk of pleural plaques.
Workers with a higher risk of asbestos exposure include:
- Construction workers
- Factory workers
- Industrial workers
- Military veterans
- Steel mill workers
- Textile mill workers
These workers had a high risk of asbestos exposure prior to the early 1980s.It was not until this time that widespread knowledge of the deadly health risks of exposure was known to the public.
It is also possible to have secondary asbestos exposure, which could happen when a spouse breathed in asbestos fibers when they were carried home on the worker’s clothes.
Studies have found that a high rate of patients with malignant mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases also have pleural plaques.
Other Possible Causes of Pleural Plaques
A 2019 report from researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai also suggested that talc may possibly contribute to the development of pleural plaques. Asbestos fibers have been found in some samples of talc products like baby powder.
How Pleural Plaques Form
The development of pleural plaques seems to be almost entirely due to the body’s inability to dislodge or expel asbestos fibers.
When asbestos fibers are inhaled into the pleura, they get stuck in the body and irritate the surrounding tissues. The pleura can become inflamed, and the tissue damage causes the immune system to react.
The body attempts to use proteins such as collagen to cover the damaged tissue. Since the lodged asbestos fibers cannot be removed by the body, the collagen builds up in the damaged tissue area.
The tissue then hardens and forms pleural plaques. That said, pleural plaques do not develop immediately.
Like all asbestos-related diseases, pleural plaques have long latency periods, meaning it can take decades for them to present after someone was first exposed to asbestos.
Symptoms of Pleural Plaques
Typically, pleural plaques do not cause any symptoms at all. If symptoms are experienced, they are generally mild.
Symptoms of pleural plaques may include excessive coughing and pain while breathing and coughing.
Did You Know?
Some researchers believe that significant pleural plaque buildup may also be associated with slightly diminished lung function.
That said, it is very rare that an individual with pleural plaques experiences severe shortness of breath. If shortness of breath is continually present, a medical professional should be consulted to determine if another illness or disease is the cause.
Diagnosis of Pleural Plaques
Since pleural plaques are usually asymptomatic, a diagnosis only comes after an individual visits a physician for other reasons, in most cases.
Pleural plaques can be found using these diagnostic techniques:
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan
Pleural Plaques May Go Unnoticed
Patients can live with pleural plaques for decades without even knowing that they have them, and they likely wouldn’t know unless they had an X-ray or CT scan for another, unrelated condition.
X-Rays and Pleural Plaque Diagnosis
Through a chest X-ray, radiologists use electromagnetic waves to see inside the chest and chest wall.
If pleural plaques or strange masses show up in the pleural space, patients should ask their medical providers about the risk of lung cancer or mesothelioma.
A medical provider can best assess a patient’s risk and determine if they require further testing for other asbestos-related diseases.
CT Scans and Pleural Plaque Diagnosis
Through a CT scan, radiologists take a series of high-resolution X-ray images to get a more in-depth look inside the body.
Doctors can typically find masses on the lungs or pleura, but these diagnostic tests cannot always determine whether the mass represents cancer or a benign pleural plaque. This is where biopsies come into play.
Biopsies and Pleural Plaque Diagnosis
Through a biopsy, doctors take a small sample of the mass to determine if the tissue is cancerous or a pleural plaque. A biopsy is the only way to determine if cancer is present or not.
Once a biopsy has been confirmed, health care professionals can recommend treatment plans.
Treatment & Prognosis for Pleural Plaques
In the overwhelming majority of pleural plaque cases, treatment is not necessary.
People can live with pleural plaques for decades with no symptoms, and they can live full and healthy lives without any reduced lung function or capacity.
Likewise, the prognosis — or expected health outlook — for patients with pleural plaques is usually positive.
Although pleural plaques alone do not require any type of treatment, it is important to remember that a diagnosis could indicate a higher risk factor for other asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma in some cases.
Pleural Plaques and Mesothelioma
Any individual who has had prolonged exposure to asbestos is at greater risk of both pleural plaques and mesothelioma. That is because of the asbestos fibers that get lodged in the lungs and cause damage to the pleura tissue.
Did You Know?
Asbestos exposure even decades ago can lead to the development of pleural plaques or mesothelioma today.
Patients who worked in a high-risk occupation for asbestos exposure such as mining or construction work — or who have developed pleural plaques — should speak with their doctor about the risk of mesothelioma and what they can do to protect themselves.
While there is no way to undo the health risks associated with asbestos exposure, doctors can recommend the next steps to take if possible symptoms of more serious diseases develop.
Next Steps for Patients with Pleural Plaques
While pleural plaques themselves are not dangerous, they could be an early risk factor for more dangerous asbestos diseases.
You should speak with a doctor immediately if you worked in a job that exposed you to asbestos. Doctors can help you determine if you have pleural plaques — or other pleural diseases — and what treatment options are available to you.
- Abeyratne, Ruwani, et al. “Asbestos-Related Pleural Plaques: Significance and Associations.” BMJ Case Reports, BMJ Publishing Group, 15 Mar. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3618841/.
- American Cancer Society, “Asbestos and Cancer Risk” Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/asbestos.html Accessed on 16 December, 2017
- British Thoracic Society “Pleural Plaques – Information for Health Care Professionals” Retrieved from https://www.brit-thoracic.org.uk/document-library/clinical-information/mesothelioma/pleural-plaques-information-for-health-care-professionals/ Accessed on 16 December, 2017
- Electronic Online Presentation System “Pleural Plaques: Appearances, Mimics and Clinical Implications” Retrieved from pdf.posterng.netkey.at/download/index.php?module=get_pdf_by_id&poster.; Accessed on 16 December, 2017
- Gordon, R. E. (2019, July 12). Cosmetic Talcum Powder as a Causative Factor in the Development of Diseases of the Pleura. Retrieved April 6, 2020, from https://www.intechopen.com/books/diseases-of-pleura/cosmetic-talcum-powder-as-a-causative-factor-in-the-development-of-diseases-of-the-pleura
- Mazzei, Maria Antonietta, et al. “Incidental and Underreported Pleural Plaques at Chest CT: Do Not Miss Them-Asbestos Exposure Still Exists.” BioMed Research International, Hindawi, 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5474542/.
- National Cancer Institute “Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk” Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/substances/asbestos/asbestos-fact-sheet Accessed on 16 December, 2017
- National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Investigating Cancer Risks Related to Asbestos and Other Occupational Carcinogens” Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2078489/ Accessed on 16 December, 2017
- National Institute of Health, “Early Diagnosis of Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma in Prior Asbestos Workers” Retrieved from https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT00188890 Accessed on 16 December, 2017
- O’Reilly, K. M. A., McLaughlin, A. M., Beckett, W. S., & Sime, P. J. (2007, March 1). Asbestos-Related Lung Disease. Retrieved April 6, 2020, from https://www.aafp.org/afp/2007/0301/p683.html
- Oxford Academic “Pleural Plaques and the Risk of Pleural Mesothelioma” Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/jnci/article/105/4/293/925337 Accessed on 16 December, 2017
- “Pleural Plaques.” British Lung Foundation, 29 Aug. 2018, www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/asbestos-related-conditions/pleural-plaques.
- Pleura Plaque. (n.d.). Retrieved April 6, 2020, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/pleura-plaque
- U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration, “Asbestos Risks” Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/asbestos/index.html Accessed on 16 December, 2017
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Easier Than It May Seem
Your individual situation may merit an actual lawsuit. However, it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Trusts have been set up to benefit victims of mesothelioma in such a way that lawsuits and court appearances aren’t needed. Contact us today and you’ll see how easy it can be to get the compensation you deserve.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who can file a mesothelioma claim?
A person who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma – as well as their spouse, child, or family member – may be able to file a claim to recover compensation from manufacturers of asbestos products. If the mesothelioma patient passes away, a family member or estate representative may also be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
How much money is in the asbestos trust fund?
An estimated $30 billion has been set aside in asbestos trust funds to compensate mesothelioma patients. Many companies that made asbestos products later filed for bankruptcy, so they created these trust funds to pay out future mesothelioma claims. If the company responsible for your asbestos exposure no longer exists, you may be entitled to money from their trust fund.
How do I file a mesothelioma claim?
To file a mesothelioma claim, contact an attorney who is experienced with these types of lawsuits. They will know where and when to file your claim, how to build the strongest case possible, and the best way to maximize compensation on your behalf.
What is the statute of limitations on mesothelioma claims?
The statute of limitations (deadline to file) for mesothelioma claims will vary depending on the state in which you file. In many states, it’s 2-3 years from the date of the mesothelioma diagnosis – though it may be longer if the mesothelioma patient has passed away. A mesothelioma lawyer can make sure your claim is filed within the required time frame.
How long do mesothelioma claims take?
Every mesothelioma claim is different, with circumstances and factors that are unique to that mesothelioma patient’s story. Though there’s no way to predict exactly how long a claim will take, an experienced mesothelioma attorney will ensure the process is handled as efficiently as possible.
Many claimants start to receive compensation in as few as 90 days after settling their mesothelioma claims.
What is the average payout for mesothelioma?
There is no guarantee of compensation when you file a mesothelioma claim, and countless factors affect how much money you might be able to recover (assuming your case settles). That said, 95% of these lawsuits are settled out of court, and the average settlement amount is $1-1.4 million.
How much is my mesothelioma claim worth?
Your mesothelioma case value depends on the specifics of your situation, such as the duration of your asbestos exposure, and the total cost of your mesothelioma treatment (as well as travel expenses and other related losses). The best way to figure out how much your claim is worth is to speak with a mesothelioma lawyer.
What type of mesothelioma claim do I have?
Most mesothelioma claims fall under one of four categories:
- Personal injury: You were exposed to asbestos (often through your job, or your loved one’s), so you file a lawsuit against the company that made the asbestos products.
- Asbestos trust fund: Similar to a personal injury claim, only the company in question went bankrupt, so you can’t sue them – but you may be able to access a trust fund they set aside for mesothelioma victims.
- Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits: U.S. military veterans who were exposed to asbestos during their service may qualify for related health care benefits through the VA.
- Wrongful death: When a mesothelioma patient passes away, their family member or estate representative may be able to file a lawsuit on their behalf, seeking money to pay for past medical expenses, pain and suffering, funeral expenses, etc.
A mesothelioma attorney can determine which type of claim makes the most sense for you and your family. (Some clients qualify for more than one.)