People diagnosed with mesothelioma have aggressive cancer that is caused by asbestos exposure. This cancer is incurable, but patients who are diagnosed early have a much greater life expectancy.
One of the initial signs of mesothelioma is a thickening of the lung or pleural thickening, that can be seen on a chest X-ray. Below is more about lung thickening, what it means, and more.
Thickening of Lung Overview
Thickening of the lung or pleural thickening is a symptom of asbestos cancer. As the disease progresses, it thickens the pleural tissue around the lung with scar tissue.
If your physician has any suspicion that you have mesothelioma or another health condition, he or she may do an X-ray, which will show the thickening of the lung. (Sciencedirect.com)
Early lung thickening does not have any symptoms. But as more scarring forms in the pleural tissue, it becomes harder for the lungs to expand for you to breathe. As mesothelioma progresses, patients will often have difficulty breathing and chest pain.
How Serious Is Thickening of the Lung?
The thickening of the lung can be very serious because it can be a sign of mesothelioma. It can be even more serious if it is not diagnosed until the later stages. That said, pleural thickening by itself is not enough to confirm that you have pleural mesothelioma. But it might be a sign of serious exposure to asbestos, which is a serious health risk.
Catching asbestos cancer in stage 1 or 2 offers more treatment options and a better prognosis. So if an X-ray showed thickening of the lung, it is critical to be regularly screened for cancer by your physician.
Advanced cases of pleural thickening can shut the space between the pleural layers and encase the lung. This is a restrictive lung disease, and patients will have a more difficult time breathing and lower lung volume.
Causes of Lung Thickening
Lung thickening is often caused by asbestos exposure. If you inhale asbestos dust, the invisible mineral fibers get stuck in the pleura. This can trigger inflammation that leads to fluid accumulation in the pleural area. This buildup of fluid is known as a pleural effusion, which can be seen on an X-ray, like pleural thickening. The slow collection of fibrous scar tissue is what lung thickening or pleural thickening is.
It is estimated that pleural thickening happens in 5% to 14% of workers who were exposed to asbestos. The condition can happen within one year of asbestos exposure. Or, it may not happen until 10-40 years later. (asbestos.com)
In most patients, a 15-20 year latency period is common between asbestos exposure and a diagnosis of pleural thickening.
Any disease that inflames the pleura can lead to lung thickening. That is why it is important to share any asbestos exposure history with your physician. He or she can screen you regularly with chest X-rays to watch for signs of mesothelioma or other asbestos-related condition.
Other possible causes of lung thickening are:
- Chronic pneumonia
- Empyema – pus accumulation in the pleura from an infection
- Hemothorax – blood accumulation in the pleura from an injury to the chest
- Coronary artery bypass surgery
- Exposure to radiation
The above conditions may be diagnosed as apical lung thickening. This means only one side of the chest or lung is affected. Lung thickening related to asbestos exposure is often diagnosed as biapical pleural lung thickening. This means that it affects both sides of the chest.
Lung Thickening Symptoms
If you have pleural thickening, the first symptom is breathlessness. According to a clinical study involving patients with pleural thickening, 95% said they were breathless, 65% said they were moderately breathless, and 11% said they were severely breathless. (ATSJournals.org)
A clinical study in 2017 found reduced lung capacity and lowered breathing ability among 35 patients with pleural thickening, compared to 20 patients who did not have a health problem.
Other signs of lung thickening are:
- Cannot draw a deep breath
- Shortness of breath, even with little exertion
- Pain in the chest when taking a deep breath
- Coughing with pain
- Dull chest pain
- Lower pulmonary function
Diagnosis of Lung Thickening
Lung thickening is usually first seen on a chest X-ray. On the film, the thickening looks like an irregular shadow on the pleural tissue and extends over at least ¼ of your chest wall.
Pleural thickening can be seen on a CT scan, too. CT scans are often used to diagnose asbestosis and pleural plaques. The CT scan can see early signs of lung thickening when scar tissue is one or two millimeters thick.
Physicians may use PET and MRI scans to tell the difference between lung thickening and mesothelioma, which you can have at the same time.
Lung Thickening Treatment
Lung thickening treatment usually is limited to the reduction of pain and symptoms only, but there are reports that pleurectomy surgery may benefit some patients. This is an aggressive treatment for patients with pleural mesothelioma that involves taking out parts of the pleural tissue.
In other situations, doctors offer treatments that deal with the symptoms of each patient. For instance, an inhaler and steroids can make a significant difference for some patients.
Also, a 2015 study in Australia found that pulmonary rehabilitation can enhance life quality for patients who have pleural thickening. This rehabilitation involves exercise training to help the patient overcome their breathing trouble and stay active. (Thoracic.org)
If you smoke and have lung thickening, it is essential to stop as soon as possible. Smoking reduces your lung function and boosts the risk of other respiratory problems.
If you have a history of asbestos exposure, it is important to tell your doctor so he or she can monitor for lung thickening, which could be a sign of mesothelioma or another serious h
Get Mesothelioma Legal Help Immediately
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