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Under normal conditions, the lungs move freely because a small amount of fluid lubricates the space between the chest wall and lungs, called the pleural space. When too much fluid accumulates, a condition known as pleural effusion develops. The condition may affect lung cancer patients if tumors spread into the pleural space and cause fluid to build up. 

In addition, lung cancer patients may be affected if fluid collects between the sheets of tissue covering the outside of the lung (pleura) and the lining of the chest cavity. Our Interventional Pulmonology Program provides advanced treatments for primary lung cancer, cancers that metastasize to the lung and airways, lung problems such as an obstruction in the airway and other chronic lung diseases.

Other causes of pleural effusion include congestive heart failure and pneumonia. The build-up of fluid prevents one or both lungs from fully expanding while you breathe. Symptoms of pleural effusion include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • A cough
  • Fever

Pleural effusion is first treated by using a catheter, a tube that drains the excess fluid from the body. Recurrence is common, though, and may require other treatment techniques. Pleurodesis is typically performed on patients with symptomatic, rapidly recurring pleural effusions. The pleural space is sealed during pleurodesis to eliminate fluid buildup. Your doctor injects a chemical agent into the chest to inflame the membranes around the lung, which causes them to join together. Three chemical agents are commonly used: doxycycline, bleomycin and talc.

The fluid drains on its own if the bottle or bag collecting the fluid is kept lower than your chest. The procedure may take several hours, particularly when there is a significant amount of fluid. Pleurodesis must be done slowly for two reasons:

  • To prevent a drop in blood pressure, which can make you feel faint
  • To keep the lung from expanding too quickly and causing greater difficulty breathing

Pleurodesis may be an outpatient procedure, depending on your health. It may require you to stay in the hospital overnight if a significant amount of fluid must be drained. The goal of treatment is to make it easier for you to breathe.

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