Malignant pleural effusions

Semin Respir Crit Care Med. 2001 Dec;22(6):607-16. doi: 10.1055/s-2001-18796.


The estimated annual incidence of malignant pleural effusions in the United States is 150,000 cases. Patients most commonly present with dyspnea, initially on exertion and later at rest. Chemical pleurodesis is the most common modality of therapy for patients with recurrent, symptomatic, malignant pleural effusion. Talc is the most successful pleurodesis agent, and talc poudrage and slurry have equal efficacy. Although a number of cases of acute respiratory failure have been associated with talc pleurodesis, the incidence is < 1% and many of these episodes cannot be clearly attributed to talc alone. Although a low pleural fluid pH is associated with a decreased survival and less successful pleurodesis, pH should not be the sole criterion for recommending or withholding pleurodesis. Other factors that need to be considered before recommending pleurodesis include relief of dyspnea after therapeutic thoracentesis, general health of the patient, performance status, presence of trapped lung, and the primary malignancy. Pleuroperitoneal shunt or chronic indwelling catheter should be considered for patients who fail pleurodesis or who have a trapped lung.