We decided to include a page on pleural plaques because there seems to be some confusion about their connection to asbestos and the risk they pose for an asbestos-related illness occurring in later life.
What Are Pleural Plaques?
Plural plaques are small areas of scar tissue that develop in the lungs. At this point in time, there is no definite theory for why exposure to asbestos would cause pleural plaques to form.
The current thinking is that when the tiny asbestos fibres get into the lungs, the immune system tries to expel them. To do this, it sends a specialised set of cells, called pleural macrophages, to the area. These cells can ‘trigger a chain of events that leads to fibrosis, in which specialized cells replace normal, healthy lung tissue with scar tissue made up of collagen fibres’.
Are Pleural Plaques a Cause of Asbestosis or Lung Cancer?
No! The British Lung Foundation (BLF) states most people with pleural plaque live perfectly normal lives, displaying no symptoms at all, even long-term. They also highlight that, although pleural plaques form as a result of being exposed to asbestos, having them does not increase the risk of developing a more serious condition, such as mesothelioma or lung cancer. They say:
“Pleural plaques are not the same as asbestosis and they are not a pre-malignant form of cancer.”
The fibrous areas are not harmful and they do not increase the risk of other, more serious, asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma or lung cancer. The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) confirms that, although pleural plaques are the result of inhaling asbestos fibres:
“The degree of exposure sufficient to cause pleural plaques is much lower than that required to cause asbestos-related disease of lung tissue (for example asbestosis)”
What are the Symptoms of Pleural Plaque?
Many people don’t even know they have pleural plaques because there are hardly any symptoms. In some extreme cases, where the plaques have calicified, there may be a minor inhibiting of the function of the lungs, caused by the hardening effect the calcification has on the lung tissue. But this is rare, occurring in only 5-15% of cases. Again, the IIAC back up this statement, saying:
“The nature and anatomical location of pleural plaques means that they do not alter the structure of the lungs or restrict their expansion. Therefore, they would not be expected to cause an important degree of impaired lung function or disability; and such studies as we have found and such experts as we have consulted agree that losses of lung function are likely to be either small or non-existent.”
Is There Any Treatment for Pleural Plaques?
No treatment is needed because pleural plaques don’t cause any symptoms. The BLF states that, “There is no need to treat pleural plaques in any way.”
However, as the formation of pleural plaques shows you’ve had some exposure to asbestos, whilst the plaque may not be dangerous, it would be well worth monitoring your health, long-term, so that any other, more deadly, asbestos-related diseases can be detected early.
Can I Claim Compensation for Pleural Plaques?
No! Claims for pleural plaque are no longer allowed. They used to be, but in 2007, the House of Lords decided that personal injury claims for pleural plaque should no longer be considered. The IIAC report clarifies why this is no longer a compensatable condition. In response to the question of reduced lung function, they concluded that:
“any losses fall well short of the compensatable level of disability within the Industrial Injuries Scheme.”
But, I Know People who Have Received Compensation for Pleural Plaque?
It is possible, as claims for pleural plaque were still being successful right up until the ban in 2007. So, people who claimed before this time would have received compensation. After 2007, the Government put in place a scheme that allowed those who’d started a claim before 2007, to continue with it. But, rather than being a personal injury claim, they claimed under the scheme. The government decided that the maximum compensation would be £5000. This scheme closed in 2011, so now there’s no opportunity to claim compensation for pleural plaques.