Pleural plaques - patient information
What are they?
Pleural plaques are areas of thickening that occur in the lining of the lung.
They are often discovered incidentally e.g. when a chest X-ray or a CT scan are performed for another reason.
Over time they become more obvious to see on a chest X-ray since calcium becomes deposited in them. If calcium is not in them then they may not be seen on a chest X-ray.
What causes pleural plaques?
They are most commonly caused by asbestos dust exposure, often many decades earlier.
These can occur in 10-20% of people who have been exposed to asbestos, so are very common.
Do pleural plaques cause symptoms?
They typically do not cause any symptoms, unless very extensive (this is rare).
Are they important?
They do not develop into cancer or any other asbestos related condition. They are simply a marker of past exposure to asbestos. Often the person with pleural plaques will recollect previous asbestos exposure, often related to work when they were much younger.
However a diagnosis of pleural plaques does suggest that a person has been exposed to asbestos and therefore that person will have an increased risk (albeit very small) of developing other more serious complications e.g. mesothelioma, diffuse pleural thickening, asbestosis, asbestos related lung cancer.
It should be stressed that the vast majority of people exposed to asbestos dust do not develop any of the more serious complications, but should be aware if they develop breathlessness, cough, chest pain, or unexplained weight loss they should see their GP for assessment, and get a chest X-ray (as a minimum). Sometimes other tests are necessary in these circumstances e.g. a CT scan, Chest Clinic referral.
What about compensation?
Sometimes it is possible to claim compensation for the worry associated with having pleural plaques, and the small risk that other asbestos related lung disease can develop.
In Scottish law you have 3 years to make a claim, from the date you were first informed about having pleural plaques. The process of making a claim can take a couple of years, so it is important that you seek advice at an early stage.
The law is different in Scotland compared to England. You can pursue a claim for pleural plaques in Scotland, but not in England.
For a claim via the Department of Work and Pensions, there is no time limit.
These charities can advise whether it is appropriate for you to pursue a claim and can help you fill out the relevant paperwork.
Even if the companies you worked for have gone out of business, there are other routes of claim via their insurers.