Objective: The purpose of this study was to document in a historical cohort the incidence and clinical observations of pneumothorax ex vacuo after therapeutic thoracentesis for malignant pleural effusions in patients with underlying parenchymal lung disease.
Materials and methods: Forty pneumothoraces resulted from 512 therapeutic thoracentesis performed for malignant pleural effusions over a 3-year period. Twenty-nine patients with pneumothoraces underwent catheter placement in the pleural space for treatment. Of these, 12 pneumothoraces resolved and 17 remained unchanged. We reviewed the charts of these 17 patients to document the cause of malignant pleural effusion, presence of underlying malignant parenchymal disease, volume of fluid aspirated, and improvement in symptoms. Clinical outcome was then evaluated, including size of residual pneumothorax, duration of catheter drainage, and reaccumulation of effusion.
Results: No patients' lungs reexpanded despite insertion of large-bore (16- to 35-French) chest tubes. All had pneumothoraces that occupied at least 30% of the hemithorax; all were asymptomatic; all had underlying parenchymal disease and noncompliant lungs. Pleural effusion reaccumulated in all 17 after removal of the chest tube.
Conclusion: A subgroup of patients with malignant lung parenchymal disease who undergo therapeutic thoracentesis will develop asymptomatic hydropneumothoraces due to poor lung compliance. These patients do not require further catheter drainage. Pleural effusion will reaccumulate in the residual space over a variable period of time.