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Cardiopulmonary Syndromes

Malignant Pleural Effusion

Pleural effusion is extra fluid around the lungs.

The pleural cavity is the space between the pleura (thin layer of tissue) that covers the outer surface of each lung and lines the inner wall of the chest cavity. Pleural tissue usually makes a small amount of fluid that helps the lungs move smoothly in the chest while a person is breathing. A pleural effusion is extra fluid in the pleural cavity. The fluid presses on the lungs and makes it hard to breathe.

Pleural effusion may be caused by cancer, cancer treatment, or other conditions.

A pleural effusion may be malignant (caused by cancer) or nonmalignant (caused by a condition that is not cancer). Malignant pleural effusion is a common problem for patients who have certain cancers. Lung cancer, breast cancer, lymphoma, and leukemia cause most malignant effusions. An effusion also may be caused by cancer treatment, such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Some cancer patients have conditions such as congestive heart failure, pneumonia, blood clot in the lung, and poor nutrition that may lead to a pleural effusion.

A diagnosis of the cause of pleural effusion is important in planning treatment.

These and other symptoms may be caused by a pleural effusion. Talk to your doctor if you have any of the following problems:

Treatment for a malignant pleural effusion is different from treatment for a nonmalignant effusion, so the right diagnosis is important. Diagnostic tests include the following:

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: