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Cancer Treatment Centers of America


Thoracentesis is a procedure performed to remove fluid from the space between the lungs and the chest wall (the pleural space). The buildup of excess pleural fluid is called pleural effusion.

Some of the causes of pleural effusion are:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Pneumonia
  • Scarring of liver tissue (cirrhosis)
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Cancer
  • Kidney disease and failure
  • Inflammatory diseases
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Chest infections
  • Abdominal infections with leakage in the chest cavity
  • Trauma
  • Lymphatic obstruction

Thoracentesis is performed to help doctors determine the cause of pleural effusion. It may relieve pain and shortness of breath caused by the buildup of fluid around the lungs.

Ultrasound guidance is used in thoracentesis. The most appropriate access point is determined with ultrasonography. That area is cleaned with an antibacterial solution. A local anesthetic is then administered to numb the area. Doctors then insert a long, thin needle or a catheter (a thin, plastic tube) between the lower ribs in the back of the chest. X-rays or ultrasound may be used to show the location of the fluid. The fluid is removed through the needle or catheter and sent to a lab for testing. Once the excess fluid is removed, patients breathe better because the lungs expand and take in air as normal. Typically the procedure takes 10 to 15 minutes.