Asbestos-related pleural diseases and pleural plaques

FAQs - your questions answered

As well as causing problems inside the lung, asbestos can cause conditions which affect the outside lining of the lung, known as the pleura. Such conditions include:

  • pleural plaques
  • pleural thickening, and
  • pleural effusions.

Pleural plaques are thickened patches on the lining of the chest and lung, caused by inhaling asbestos fibres. Pleural plaques are the most common, yet least threatening health condition associated with exposure to asbestos and may develop many years after exposure. Pleural plaques are markings that indicate past asbestos exposure.

Ordinarily, pleural plaques do not cause respiratory impairment and some people will go many years without having the condition diagnosed. In some cases though, usually when the plaques are particularly extensive, sufferers may experience shortness of breath and pain. Pleural plaques can also cause, or present as, pleural thickening. In many cases, the condition is detected when a sufferer undergoes a chest x-ray for an unrelated condition or as part of routine investigations where a patient has a known history of asbestos exposure.

As pleural plaques generally do not produce symptoms, treatment is generally not required. However, in the event that the condition causes respiratory impairment, treatment options are limited and unfortunately, there is no known cure for the condition.

It is generally accepted that pleural plaques are a benign condition that do not become cancerous. But, as pleural plaques are a marker of past asbestos exposure, the condition is associated with an increased likelihood of developing other asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma.

Pleural effusions are collections of fluid which accumulate between the outside of the lung and the chest wall. They can cause shortness of breath and chest pain. Asbestos exposure can cause pleural effusions, though these effusions can also have other causes, such as cardiac problems. Pleural effusions often require drainage if there has been asbestos exposure, and the fluid will usually be tested for malignancy to diagnose or exclude mesothelioma.

Note: This information is general in nature. Please consult your doctor about your health.