Best evidence topic - thoracic oncologic: What is the best treatment for malignant pleural effusions?

Imran Zahid, Tom Routledge, Andrea Bille, Marco Scarci

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A best evidence topic in thoracic surgery was written according to a structured protocol. The question addressed was whether chemical pleurodesis is superior to catheter drainage or pleuroperitoneal shunts (PPS) in the management of patients with pleural effusions. Overall 161 papers were found using the reported search, of which 14 represented the best evidence to answer the clinical question. The authors, journal, date and country of publication, patient group studied, study type, relevant outcomes and results are tabulated. We conclude that chemical pleurodesis is superior to chronic catheter drainage and PPS in terms survival length and ortality rates but in patients with trapped lung syndrome chronic intrapleural catheter placement is indicated. Six studies reported patient outcomes after treatment with chemical pleurodesis. They report high success rates (89.4%) and low mortality rates (2%) without any need to convert to open thoracotomy. Mean hospital stay of 2.33 days, complication rates of 16.5% and mean survival length of 23.816.3 months were observed. Five studies managed malignant pleural effusions (MPEs) using chronic indwelling catheters. They reported mean survival length of 126 days. Symptomatic relief was achieved in 94.2% of patients. There was a significant reduction in the Medical Research Council dyspnoea score (3.0-1.9, P-0.001) and despite complication rates of 22%, comparable mortality rates (7.5%) were observed. Even in patients with trapped lung syndrome, mean survival length was 125 days with symptomatic improvement being achieved in 90.9% of patients. Three studies treated MPEs using PPSs. Mean hospital stay was 6.2 days (range 2-26) with a mean survival length of 11 months. Pleurodesis success rates varied from 57.1% to 95% with a complication rate of 14.8%. PPSs were shown to produce lower success rates (57.1% vs. 92.3%), shorter survival lengths (4.31.9 vs. 6.72.1 months) and higher complication rates (14.3% vs. 2.8%) than talc pleurodesis. Overall, chemical pleurodesis is the optimal treatment option for MPE with use of chronic intrapleural catheters reserved in cases where talc pleurodesis is not possible.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)818-823
Number of pages6
JournalInteractive Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2011


  • Malignant mesothelioma
  • Pleural effusion
  • Treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Surgery


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