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Malignant Pleural Effusion: Causes and Treatment

Malignant Pleural Effusion: Causes and Treatment

Malignant pleural effusion, typically marked by breathing problems, is a respiratory complication associated with cancer patients. To know more about its treatment, read on.
Nicks J
Last Updated: Apr 22, 2018
Pleural effusion is a condition that occurs when excess fluid accumulates between the layers of membrane (pleura) around the lungs. The area between the layers that cover the lungs is called pleural space or cavity. Also known as "water on the lungs", the condition is quite common in the United States, and is often associated with heart problems. When this respiratory condition is caused by cancer, it is known as malignant pleural effusion.
Causes
Malignant pleural effusion is a common complication observed in patients suffering from cancer. Prolonged use of chemotherapy drugs or radiation therapy, can also lead to this condition. Medical conditions that are known to cause this condition are as follows:
  • Breast cancer
  • Leukemia (blood cancer)
  • Lymphoma (cancer that damages the immune system)
  • Lung cancer
Symptoms
Malignant pleural effusion makes it difficult for a person to breathe. The abnormal formation of fluid puts undue pressure on the lungs. As a result the lungs are not able to expand fully. In some cases, a part of the lung collapses (the space between the lungs and the wall of chest cavity fills with air), leading to shortness of breath. In general, the most common symptoms of this condition are as follows:
  • Trouble breathing
  • Pain while inhaling
  • Chest pain
  • Cough
Treatment
There are 3 major treatment options that can help manage this respiratory complication. Treatment involves slowing down the rate of fluid buildup and draining it to decrease the severity of symptoms.
Thoracentesis
In this procedure the fluid is drained from the pleural cavity using a needle and a hollow plastic tube. This method of removing the fluid, can ease the discomfort of the patient to a certain extent as it relieves severe symptoms for a short period. This method provides an immediate improvement in the breathing process, thus allowing the patients to continue with daily activities. However, after the treatment of thoracentesis, the fluid may start collecting again. Repeated thoracentesis is not recommended as it can cause bleeding, infection and low blood pressure. This procedure is helpful only if the rate of fluid buildup is very slow.
Pleurodesis
In this procedure the pleural sac is closed to avoid repeated fluid buildup. Fluid is first drained by thoracentesis using a chest tube. A chemical or a drug, is then administered through the chest tube in order to close the sac. Chemical agents that cause the sac to close are talc, doxycycline, and bleomycin. The chest tube is removed from the body, only after a sufficient amount of fluid is drained.
Surgery
The surgical procedure involves implanting a shunt (tube) to bring the accumulated fluid to the abdominal activity. Removing the fluid from the pleural activity can be a bit tough, whereas the fluid can be drained easily, if it is in the abdominal activity. This procedure is highly effective for alleviating the symptoms of this respiratory condition.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.