Background: Malignant pleural effusion (MPE) is a common and distressing condition at the end of life for many patients with disseminated cancer. The challenge for the surgeon lies in managing this problem in order to deliver the most effective palliation with the least impact on the limited time available to these patients.
Methods: Herein is reported a retrospective review of outcomes for a consecutive series of 66 MPE (61 patients) treated over a 5-year period from 1995 to 2000. A standard operative technique involving a single-lung anaesthetic and two-port thoracoscopy was employed. Outcomes were determined by contacting the referring practitioner or the patients themselves. Principal outcome measures included time to recurrence of the effusion and survival.
Results: Complete follow up was achieved for 60 MPE (55 patients; five of whom were treated for metachronous, bilateral disease). The three most common primary sites were breast, lung and mesothelial tissue. The planned procedure was not completed in two cases due to encasement of the underlying lung by tumour. Primary failure (immediate recurrence of the effusion) occurred in six cases. Delayed recurrence of the effusion occurred in a further 23 MPE resulting in complete control in 31 cases (52%) until death. Overall median survival was 220 days and the 30-day mortality was 0.
Conclusions: Complete and permanent control of a malignant effusion is difficult to achieve. Management based on thoracoscopy and talc insufflation produces satisfactory results with an acceptable morbidity and no early mortality. The ability to inspect the pleural space, break down adhesions and completely drain pockets of fluid to achieve complete lung expansion probably contributes to this.