Importance: For treatment of malignant pleural effusion, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are avoided because they may reduce pleurodesis efficacy. Smaller chest tubes may be less painful than larger tubes, but efficacy in pleurodesis has not been proven.
Objective: To assess the effect of chest tube size and analgesia (NSAIDs vs opiates) on pain and clinical efficacy related to pleurodesis in patients with malignant pleural effusion.
Design, setting, and participants: A 2×2 factorial phase 3 randomized clinical trial among 320 patients requiring pleurodesis in 16 UK hospitals from 2007 to 2013.
Interventions: Patients undergoing thoracoscopy (n = 206; clinical decision if biopsy was required) received a 24F chest tube and were randomized to receive opiates (n = 103) vs NSAIDs (n = 103), and those not undergoing thoracoscopy (n = 114) were randomized to 1 of 4 groups (24F chest tube and opioids [n = 28]; 24F chest tube and NSAIDs [n = 29]; 12F chest tube and opioids [n = 29]; or 12F chest tube and NSAIDs [n = 28]).
Main outcomes and measures: Pain while chest tube was in place (0- to 100-mm visual analog scale [VAS] 4 times/d; superiority comparison) and pleurodesis efficacy at 3 months (failure defined as need for further pleural intervention; noninferiority comparison; margin, 15%).
Results: Pain scores in the opiate group (n = 150) vs the NSAID group (n = 144) were not significantly different (mean VAS score, 23.8 mm vs 22.1 mm; adjusted difference, -1.5 mm; 95% CI, -5.0 to 2.0 mm; P = .40), but the NSAID group required more rescue analgesia (26.3% vs 38.1%; rate ratio, 2.1; 95% CI, 1.3-3.4; P = .003). Pleurodesis failure occurred in 30 patients (20%) in the opiate group and 33 (23%) in the NSAID group, meeting criteria for noninferiority (difference, -3%; 1-sided 95% CI, -10% to ∞; P = .004 for noninferiority). Pain scores were lower among patients in the 12F chest tube group (n = 54) vs the 24F group (n = 56) (mean VAS score, 22.0 mm vs 26.8 mm; adjusted difference, -6.0 mm; 95% CI, -11.7 to -0.2 mm; P = .04) and 12F chest tubes vs 24F chest tubes were associated with higher pleurodesis failure (30% vs 24%), failing to meet noninferiority criteria (difference, -6%; 1-sided 95% CI, -20% to ∞; P = .14 for noninferiority). Complications during chest tube insertion occurred more commonly with 12F tubes (14% vs 24%; odds ratio, 1.91; P = .20).
Conclusions and relevance: Use of NSAIDs vs opiates resulted in no significant difference in pain scores but was associated with more rescue medication. NSAID use resulted in noninferior rates of pleurodesis efficacy at 3 months. Placement of 12F chest tubes vs 24F chest tubes was associated with a statistically significant but clinically modest reduction in pain but failed to meet noninferiority criteria for pleurodesis efficacy.
Trial registration: isrctn.org Identifier: ISRCTN33288337.