Asbestos-related conditions

Pleural plaques

The pleura is a two-layered membrane surrounding your lungs and lining the inside of your rib cage. If you have been exposed to asbestos it is very common for areas of this membrane to become thickened and to accumulate a chalky material. These areas are called pleural plaques.

Pleural plaques image

If you have pleural plaques, it doesn’t mean that:

  • you will go on to get a more serious disease 
  • you have a more serious disease at the moment

Being exposed to asbestos does increase your risk of developing a serious lung condition such as asbestosis, mesothelioma or lung cancer. But there is no scientific evidence that having pleural plaques increases the risk any further. So if you’ve been exposed to asbestos you should not worry if you’re told you have pleural plaques.

Pleural plaques aren’t the same as asbestosis. Furthermore, plaques aren’t a form of cancer.

Symptoms

Most of the time, you’ll have no symptoms. You can live with pleural plaques without having any long-term problems with your health. You can live with them for years without knowing you have them.

If you do have symptoms in your chest such as breathlessness, a cough or pain, it’s important not to think these are caused by the plaques and ignore them. The symptoms are more likely to be caused by another condition that might need attention.

Diagnosis

If you have been exposed to asbestos and have no chest problems, there is normally no need to have a chest X-ray or CT scan, unless your health care professional recommends it. The risk associated with exposure to X-rays or a CT-scan is far greater than the benefit of finding out you have pleural plaques.

Treatment

There is no need to treat pleural plaques in any way.

If you smoke, you should seek help to quit. This will reduce your chances of developing a smoking-related lung disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or lung cancer

Next: Diffuse pleural thickening >

Download our asbestos-related conditions PDF (357KB)

Last medically reviewed: January 2018. Due for review: January 2021

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.