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Pleura cancer


The pleura is a membrane composed of two layers: one lining the lung cavity, the other surrounding and protecting the lungs. Pleura cancer is a primary cancer called mesothelioma. It is usually caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos, and can occur decades after such an exposure. It usually affects men after 50 years of age, and can be recognized as an occupational disease. Its evolution is towards the invasion of other vital organs (pericardium around the heart and peritoneum around the digestive organs).


In early development, mesothelioma is not responsible for any symptoms. It may however be the cause of a pleural effusion, which allows liquid to spread into the pleural cavity. This liquid is often composed of blood and can lead to severe pain. Shortness of breath and chest pain are possible symptoms, but they often appear when the cancer is already well established.


Pleural effusion can be seen during a chest radiograph. Aspiration of the liquid is possible, but is not always very contributive to a diagnosis. The diagnosis of pleura cancer is made with the help of a thoracoscopy, the visual examination of the chest cavity using a camera, which can also include a biopsy. If positive, the staging is necessary, which consists of examinations to search for metastases, secondary cancer sites.


If the cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, chemotherapy is usually indicated. Surgery may be necessary, in which case pneumonectomy is then performed, i.e. the removal of the pleura and part or all of a lung.


Exposure to asbestos is the cause of virtually all cancers of the pleura. Prevention lies in the removal of this material, especially in buildings.