What Is Pleural Plaque?
Pleural plaques occur when a protein called collagen builds up in the lung tissue due to the immune response to asbestos. They often go unnoticed for years because they may not cause symptoms or discomfort.
Unlike many other asbestos-related diseases, pleural plaques are generally not dangerous to your health. This is because they are benign (not cancerous).
Millions of people were exposed to asbestos and put at increased risk of these serious health conditions.
If you have been diagnosed with pleural plaques, lung cancer, or other asbestos-related diseases, Lung Cancer Group may be able to help you. Get started with a free lung cancer case review today.
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How Asbestos Pleural Plaques Develop
Pleural plaques are caused by exposure to asbestos, a carcinogenic (cancer-causing) fibrous mineral. When inhaled or ingested, the asbestos fibers settle in the body.
The body’s natural immune response will try to break down the fibers. However, since asbestos is so strong, the body cannot do so. Instead, scar tissue will build up around the fibers.
People may also develop pleural plaques from past exposure to talc. This is because talc products often contain traces of asbestos fibers, according to a 2019 study in Diseases of the Pleura.
It may take 10-50 years after asbestos exposure for plaques to begin forming in the lungs, because of the long latency period of asbestos.
Pleural plaques usually develop in the parietal pleura, the tissue that makes up the outer layer of the lungs that connects the lung to the diaphragm and chest wall. In rare cases, pleural plaques can also develop in the visceral pleura, which refers to the inner layer of lung tissue.
Once detected, it is important to receive routine screenings since patients may be at an increased risk of pleural mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other asbestos-related diseases.
Pleural Plaques Symptoms
Pleural plaques do not typically cause symptoms and may not pose serious health concerns for patients.
However, some symptoms may indicate more serious asbestos-related diseases.
These symptoms include:
- Bloody or persistent coughing
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
If you have these symptoms, talk with your doctor immediately and discuss medical testing as you may have a more serious health problem like lung cancer.
Who Is at Risk for Pleural Plaques?
People who regularly experienced occupational asbestos exposure are at a higher risk of developing pleural plaques than the general population.
Workers with a higher risk of occupational asbestos exposure include:
- Construction workers
- Factory workers
- Steel and textile mill workers
Prior to the early 1980s, many of these workers served in jobs where asbestos was widely used. The risks of asbestos were hidden by major manufacturers for decades, putting workers at risk of exposure, pleural plaques, and lung cancer.
People can also develop pleural plaques by:
- Living in, or close to, places with asbestos, such as near asbestos mines or in old buildings that contain asbestos insulation.
- Secondhand asbestos exposure, which can happen when someone who is regularly exposed to asbestos at work brings home asbestos fibers on their clothes.
If you worked in a high-risk asbestos occupation and have developed pleural plaques and asbestos lung cancer, our team may be able to help you. Contact us to learn more.
Diagnosing Pleural Plaques
Doctors do not typically perform diagnostic tests specifically for pleural plaques. Instead, plaques are usually found on X-rays and computed tomography (CT scans) for an unrelated issue.
Chest X-rays, also known as chest radiography, create images of your lungs and chest wall to detect any abnormalities.
Pleural plaques may appear in chest X-rays as translucent, irregular rectangles with white edges.
If the plaques are calcified (hardened by both calcium and collagen deposits) they will appear white in X-rays.
Pleural plaques become calcified in about 10-15% of cases. Calcified pleural plaques are easier to detect but they still do not cause significant health concerns for patients.
Chest CT scans allow radiologists to create high-resolution images of the chest cavity. These are typically better quality than chest radiographs/X-rays.
Pleural plaques show up as white lesions or masses on the pleura. However, even if doctors see plaques on imaging scans, they’ll need to perform biopsies to confirm whether the lesions are cancerous or benign.
During a biopsy, a doctor takes a tissue sample to examine at the lab to look for signs of cancer.
This is the only way to determine whether the tissue is cancerous or simply pleural plaques.
Once the biopsy results come back, your health care team can recommend treatment plans.
If a biopsy reveals asbestos lung cancer, you may be eligible for financial assistance to cover treatment. See how we can help you with a free case review.
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Pleural Plaques Treatment
Once a diagnosis of pleural plaques is confirmed, doctors may not recommend any treatment. This is because the condition is harmless and will not cause serious complications.
Additionally, it’s usually not possable to remove pleural plaques without harming the lungs.
However, doctors may recommend routine screenings to ensure that no symptoms or other concerning asbestos-related diseases develop.
Prognosis for Pleural Plaques
The prognosis or expected outlook for patients with pleural plaques is often positive. Patients can live long and full lives with pleural plaques since this condition isn’t harmful.
However, the prognosis may change if the pleural plaques are indicative of another asbestos-related disease. It’s important to continue talking with your doctor, especially if any pain or discomfort begins to develop after being diagnosed with pleural plaques.
Do Pleural Plaques Lead to Other Pleural Diseases?
Pleural plaques themselves are not malignant (cancerous) and do not lead to cancer. However, because they are a sign of asbestos exposure, it’s possible to have a co-occurring asbestos disease.
Beyond lung cancer and mesothelioma, asbestos also increases the risk of other interstitial lung diseases, which are a group of disorders that cause scar tissue to build up in and around airways.
One interstitial lung disease caused by asbestos that pleural plaque patients may develop is asbestosis. The irritation from asbestos fibers causes lung tissue to become inflamed and scarred, making it hard to take deep breaths or get enough oxygen.
Patients with pleural plaques may also be at risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), another group of lung diseases that make it difficult to breathe.
If you have been diagnosed with pleural plaques, it’s important to undergo follow-up doctor appointments as you may have a more serious illness. The earlier doctors identify and treat asbestos-caused cancers like lung cancer and mesothelioma, the higher your chances of survival.
Additionally, those with pleural plaques are encouraged to quit smoking. Smoking amplifies the damage that asbestos causes and can lead to more fatal health problems like lung cancer.
Get Help for Pleural Plaques
Asbestos-related illnesses can be overwhelming and costly. While pleural plaques have a better prognosis than other asbestos diseases, they can still increase anxiety about the potential of asbestos lung cancer or mesothelioma.
If you were diagnosed with pleural plaques and another asbestos-related disease like lung cancer, our team at Lung Cancer Group can help you get financial aid to cover medical costs. Find out how we can help you today with a free case review.
FAQs About Pleural Plaques
Are pleural plaques serious?
Not necessarily. Pleural plaques are generally not dangerous and do not significantly affect lung function.
However, you could develop another asbestos-related disease later in life, such as asbestos lung cancer or mesothelioma, since pleural plaques indicate you were exposed to this toxic substance.
Contact your health care provider to gain a better understanding of the condition(s) you have and to learn about your risk for asbestos diseases.
How does asbestos cause pleural plaques?
Pleural plaques develop after asbestos fibers are breathed in or swallowed. The body is unable to remove the fibers. As a result, protein may build up around the fiber in the lungs, causing thick scar tissue known as pleural plaques.
Can pleural plaques indicate other asbestos-related diseases?
Yes, possibly. Since pleural plaques are caused by asbestos fibers, they may indicate someone is at an increased risk of serious asbestos-related illnesses.
If you are experiencing trouble breathing and you were diagnosed with pleural plaques in the past, it is important to talk with your doctor about diagnosing lung cancer, mesothelioma, or other serious health issues.
How long can you live with pleural plaques?
Because pleural plaques do not cause any serious health problems or symptoms, they will not impact your life span, as long as no other asbestos-related diseases develop.
Can pleural plaques kill you?
Not necessarily. Pleural plaques are non-cancerous and often do not cause serious symptoms. Patients can live for many years with pleural plaques.
However, pleural plaques can be a sign of exposure to asbestos, which can increase someone’s risk of developing fatal conditions like asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. If you have been diagnosed with pleural plaques and start developing symptoms, it’s important to talk with your doctor and begin screening for more serious diseases.