Malignant effusions: from diagnosis to biology

Diagn Cytopathol. 2004 Oct;31(4):246-54. doi: 10.1002/dc.20133.


Serous effusions are a frequently encountered clinical manifestation of metastatic disease, with breast, ovarian, and lung carcinomas and malignant mesothelioma (MM) leading the list. Recently, extensive research has resulted in expansion of the antibody panel that is available for effusion diagnosis, thereby reducing the risk for error. Despite this progress, relatively little has been done in way of understanding the biology of cancer cells in effusions, especially those of nonovarian origin. The diagnosis of a malignant effusion signifies disease progression and is associated with a worse prognosis regardless of the tumor site of origin. However, survival is much more variable with ovarian cancer compared with other tumors. Furthermore, cancer cells of different origins differ considerably in their biology and have unique phenotypic and genotypic characteristics. This review summarizes the current knowledge in this field and presents a model for the study of tumor metastasis and disease progression, through large comparative studies of malignant cells in effusions, primary tumors, and solid metastases. The case also is made for potential applications of this rapidly evolving body of knowledge in the diagnosis, classification, and prediction of biological behavior of processes resulting in cryptic effusions at the clinical level.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ascitic Fluid / pathology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / diagnosis
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / pathology
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / pathology
  • Pericardial Effusion / diagnosis*
  • Pericardial Effusion / pathology
  • Pleural Effusion, Malignant / diagnosis*
  • Pleural Effusion, Malignant / pathology
  • Prognosis