Use of small-bore vs large-bore chest tubes for treatment of malignant pleural effusions

Chest. 2001 Jul;120(1):19-25. doi: 10.1378/chest.120.1.19.


Study objective: To evaluate the efficacy of small-bore (12 French vanSonnenberg) catheters compared with standard large-bore chest tubes in the drainage and sclerotherapy of malignant pleural effusions.

Design: Retrospective review.

Setting: An academic tertiary care hospital.

Patients: Adult patients with documented neoplasms and malignant pleural effusions, treated between 1986 and 1995.

Intervention: All patients included in the study underwent drainage of malignant pleural effusions either by large-bore chest tube or by ultrasound-guided small-bore catheter. After drainage, pleurodesis was performed.

Results: Outcome as defined by recurrence of effusion was determined by blinded examination of all postpleurodesis chest radiographs. We identified 58 cases of malignant pleural effusion in which small-bore catheters were used and 44 in which large-bore chest tubes were used. The majority of patients had breast (n = 56, 55%) or lung cancer (n = 29, 28%). The median age was 65 years. Fifty-nine patients were actively being treated with chemotherapy at the time of pleurodesis. The following sclerosing agents were used: talc, 27 (26%); tetracycline, 72 (70%); bleomycin, 2 (2%); and interferon, 1 (1%). Actuarial probabilities of recurrence at 6 weeks and 4 months were 45% and 53% for the small tubes vs 45% and 51% for the large tubes. Univariate and multivariate analyses failed to demonstrate that tube size had any influence on the rate of recurrence.

Conclusions: We were unable to detect any major differences in outcomes with the use of either size of chest tube. Our study suggests that small-bore catheters may be effective in the treatment of malignant pleural effusions and deserve further evaluation in prospectively designed trials.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Bleomycin
  • Breast Neoplasms / complications
  • Chest Tubes* / adverse effects
  • Drainage / adverse effects
  • Drainage / instrumentation*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interferon Type I
  • Lung Neoplasms / complications
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pleural Effusion, Malignant / mortality
  • Pleural Effusion, Malignant / therapy*
  • Pleurodesis
  • Probability
  • Recurrence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sclerosing Solutions
  • Sclerotherapy / adverse effects
  • Survival Rate
  • Talc
  • Tetracycline


  • Interferon Type I
  • Sclerosing Solutions
  • Bleomycin
  • Talc
  • Tetracycline