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Lung Cancer: Fluid around Lungs

One of the complications of lung cancer is the accumulation of fluid around lungs, which is known as pleural effusion. It often results due to spreading of the cancer cells outside the lungs.
Bhakti Satalkar
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Before going to any other organ in the body, the blood goes to the lungs, due to which the cancer cells in the bloodstream tend to get stuck in the lungs' tiny capillaries. This makes lungs the most common organ to which cancers spread.

Our lungs play a very important role in supplying oxygen to the bloodstream. Even when the blood flows back from the entire body to the heart, the lungs are the first ones to receive the blood from the heart, before any other organ. Unfortunately, this mechanism makes them more vulnerable to cancer cells, which may affect the lungs and its surrounding tissues, including the pleura.
As you can see in the diagram above, the pleura are the protective tissue sheets of the lungs, also referred as the lung lining. They contain a gap between them which is called the pleural space. In order to keep the pleura moistened, they produce lubricating fluids to enable them to move smoothly with the lungs during the breathing process. However, when cancer cells reach the pleura, they cause a reaction which enables these membranes to produce excessive amount of fluid between the pleural space. Hence, this condition is called pleural effusion.
Pleural effusion should not be confused with pulmonary edema, in which the fluid accumulates within the air sacs present in the lungs. This is caused mostly due to heart related problems and is not related with lung cancer.
Associated Symptoms
Fluid accumulation in the lungs is just one complication of lung cancer, which may or may not cause other bothersome symptoms in the patient. Some of these are mentioned as follows.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heaviness
  • Chest pain
  • Discomfort
  • Cough
The excessive accumulation of fluid in the pleural space tends to press against the lung, preventing the lungs to expand fully while inhaling. This may cause breathlessness even while resting. A constant discomfort and heaviness may be felt along with pain in the chest.
It is observed that pleural effusion is mostly in seen in patients with cancers, such as, lung cancer, breast cancer, pleura cancer, ovarian cancer, and lymphomas. It can be diagnosed with the help of a chest X-ray, and draining out the unwanted fluid is possible.
The doctor uses a tube called 'chest drain' and attaches a needle at the tip of this tube. This needle is inserted in the side of the chest so that it reaches the pleural space. Anesthesia is given before this procedure so that no pain is experienced. The tube is attached to a drainage bag where the fluid is collected. Because the sudden release of the pressure from the chest may cause low blood pressure, this procedure is done slowly for safety purposes. It may cause dizziness and lightheadedness, which should be told to the doctor or nurse immediately. The patient may be required to stay in the hospital for a few days after the drainage is complete. However, the fluid may accumulate again till the cancer cells are not treated by chemotherapy and other treatment options.
Risk Factors
While there is no specific cause for cancers to develop, there are certain factors that may put some under the risk of developing lung cancer, a complication of which is fluid in the pleural space. These factors are mentioned as under.
Smoking: While it is true that not all smokers develop cancer, and that people who have never smoked also get lung cancer, smoking definitely puts one in the risk zone. Even passive smokers are under the risk of developing lung cancer.
Alcohol: Yes, even excessive consumption of alcohol―more than two drinks for men and one drink for women on a daily basis―may increase the chances of lung cancer in the future.
Exposure to Chemicals and Gas: Exposure to asbestos, arsenic, radon gas, chromium, nickel, and other harmful substances, can increase your risk. These are known to cause cancer.
Family History: What puts one under a higher risk of developing this fatal disease is a family history for the same.
According to the American Lung Association, lung cancer causes the maximum number of cancer deaths all across the globe, approximately 1.3 million deaths per year! This alarming fact just signifies the pace at which this fatal disease is growing. There is no cause and cure for this disease. While experts are trying their best to find a cure, can't we contribute our bit by taking the necessary precautions to minimize the cause?
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is meant for educating the reader only and should not be considered as a replacement for an expert medical advice.