What is it?

Pleural cancer occurs outside the lungs in the chest or pleural cavity and along the pleural lining, the membrane that surrounds the lungs and covers the inside of the chest cavity. Cancer that occurs in the pleural cavity has most often spread (metastasized) to the pleura from somewhere else in the body. For this reason, the disease is sometimes referred to as unknown primary pleural cancer. It has most commonly spread to the pleural space from the lung but can come from the breast, ovary, pancreas, colon, and other locations. Primary pleural cancer is cancer that develops in the pleural cavity itself, such as malignant pleural mesothelioma, but this type is less common.
Determining the cancer’s origin and degree of involvement often requires special diagnostic testing and procedures.

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Additional names

This group contains additional names:
- Pleural cancer

Signs & symptoms

Pleural cancer might not have symptoms at first, or it might produce symptoms similar to lung cancer. These include:
- Shortness of breath when active
- Chest pain
- General discomfort
- Cough
- Unexplained weight loss


For diagnosis you will be physically examined and perform some tests to diagnose pleural cancer. Further tests might be needed to help determine the cancer’s stage and precise location. In some cases, pathologists can determine the primary cancer that has spread to the pleura.
Imaging techniques used to diagnose pleural cancer might include:
Chest X-ray: This type of imaging is used to visualize abnormalities in the pericardium.
CT scan: help to visualize the location and extent of unknown primary pleural cancer.
MRI: help to identify suspicious areas that could indicate unknown primary pleural cancer and learn if and how far it has spread.
PET: Cancer cells absorb large amounts of radioactive sugar used in this technique, and a special camera creates images of that radioactivity, enabling physicians to identify cancerous cells in the pleura.
Endoscopic ultrasonography: This technology maps sound waves to help physicians visualize pleural cancer.
Additional testing might also include a tissue sample (biopsy) of the pleural tissue to determine the presence of cancer.


Treatment options for unknown primary pleural cancer depend on the cancer’s precise location and stage; the patient’s overall health, goals, and preferences; and other factors. It may include:
- Treatment with medication: Chemotherapy drugs, taken orally or intravenously, can target and kill cancer cells in the pleura.
- Radiation therapy: High-energy radiation, such as X-rays, can destroy cancer cells in the pleura.
- Surgery: Highly precise surgery to remove cancerous tissue can be used in some early-stage cases of unknown primary pleural cancer.

☝️ This is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult with your physician before making any medical decision.

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