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Cardiopulmonary Syndromes (PDQ®): Supportive care - Patient Information [NCI] - Malignant Pleural Effusion


The type of cancer, previous treatment for cancer, and the patient's wishes also are important in planning treatment.

Treatment may be to control symptoms of pleural effusion and improve quality of life.

A malignant pleural effusion often occurs in cancer that is advanced , cannot be removed by surgery, or continues to grow or spread during treatment. It is also common during the last few weeks of life. The goal of treatment is usually palliative, to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life.

Treatment of the symptoms of malignant pleural effusion includes the following:

  • Thoracentesis

    Thoracentesis is a procedure to remove extra fluid from the pleural cavity using a needle and/or a thin, hollow plastic tube. Removal of the fluid may help to relieve severe symptoms for a short time. A few days after the extra fluid is removed it is likely it will begin to come back. The risk of a thoracentesis includes bleeding, infection, collapsed lung, fluid in the lungs, and low blood pressure.

  • Pleurodesis

    This is a procedure to close the pleural space so that fluid cannot collect there. Fluid is first removed by thoracentesis, using a chest tube. A drug that causes the pleural space to close is then inserted into the space through a chest tube. Drugs such as bleomycin or talc may be used.

  • Surgery

    Surgery may be done to put in a shunt (tube) to carry the fluid from the pleural cavity to the abdominal cavity, where the fluid is easier to remove. Pleurectomy is another type of surgery that may be used. In this procedure, the part of the pleura that lines the chest cavity is removed.


WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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