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Pleurodesis is a surgical procedure that removes fluid from the pleural cavity in the chest. This procedure treats pleural effusion, a build-up of excess fluid between the layers of the pleura. Pleural effusion is a common complication of pleural mesothelioma and other lung-related illnesses. Pleurodsis is not a treatment for cancer but rather relieves common symptoms. Pleurodesis may be used during any stage of mesothelioma to help relieve symptoms and improve quality of life.

Pleural Effusion and Excess Fluid

Pleural effusion is an accumulation of fluid in the space between the two pleural layers in the chest. There are many underlying conditions that can trigger this condition. SOme are malignant and others are benign. Common non-malignant causes include pneumonia, heart failure, kidney disease, and pulmonary embolism. Malignant causes are cancers like lung cancer or pleural mesothelioma.

The buildup of fluid in the pleural space can be very uncomfortable. In early stages of mesothelioma, a patient may have no symptoms. As the cancer progresses, the chance of developing a pleural effusion increases. These effusions may also be more severe and result in more symptoms. These symptoms include shortness of breath, a dry persistent cough, chest pain, and difficulty breathing when slouching or lying down.

Pleurodesis Removes and Prevents Fluid Buildup

A simple procedure can be done to remove the excess fluid that accumulates in the pleura. A thoracentesis is a procedure that uses a thin needle or tube to draw fluid from the pleura. The procedure is minimally invasive and doesn’t usually cause complications. However, this treatment is only a temporary measure. The fluid will soon build up again in the space, causing the pain and discomfort to return.

A pleurodesis drains the fluid for immediate relief and also aims to prevent future pleural effusions. The first step is in pleurodesis is draining the fluid completely from the pleural space. The second step, seals the pleural space so that fluid can no longer accumulate. There are two different ways to achieve this. One is a chemical injection. The other is surgery to close the space mechanically.

Chemical Pleurodesis

For chemical pleurodesis, the fluid is first drained. Then, a chemical is inserted into the pleural space. The chemical causes irritation and inflammation of the two layers of the pleura, causing the space to seal shut. The drug doxycycline or simple talc may be used to produce inflammation.

The chemical is inserted into the pleural space through a tube, which is then clamped so the material cannot drain back out. The patient then shifts position approximately every 30 minutes to ensure the substance moves around enough to seal the entire pleural space. This process takes several hours, but is not painful or uncomfortable. Most patients are given painkillers, enabling them to better tolerate the procedure.

Surgical Pleurodesis

Pleurodesis with talc is the most common method of sealing the pleural space. This method is inexpensive and minimally invasive. If the patient would not react well to chemical pleurodesis, a surgeon may seal the pleural space mechanically. This procedure is significantly more invasive and may cause complications common to surgery, including infection and bleeding. To perform this procedure, the surgeon uses an abrasive to cause irritation and inflammation.

Mesothelioma Candidates for Pleurodesis

Not all patients with mesothelioma and pleural effusion are good candidates for pleurodesis. A medical team may use thoracentesis first to determine if the patient would benefit from pleurodesis. If fluid rebuilds rapidly, the patient may need pleurodesis as a more permanent method for eliminating and preventing fluid buildup.

If cancerous tumors have spread extensively throughout the pleura, strategies for sealing the pleural space may not be effective. When a patient is in a late stage of cancer, occasional less-invasive procedures may be more appropriate. Patients who undergo other types of surgery, such as extrapleural pneumonectomy, will not need pleurodesis.


As with any procedure, pleurodesis has potential risks and complications. Some patients may react badly to the procedure and experience chest pains, infection, and fever. Although rare, the procedure may cause respiratory distress or cardiovascular problems. Pain is the most common side effect of pleurodesis. Pain medication, anti-anxiety medication, or an epidural prior to the procedure help patients deal with pain.

Malignancy along the insertion site is another possible complication of pleurodesis. This is called seeding and can be avoided by applying radiation to the area soon after the pleurodesis.


Recovery from pleurodesis should not take long for most patients. Most patients respond favorably to pleurodesis. Within a few days, patients should feel better and begin to breathe more easily.  In rare cases, pleurodesis may fail. In these cases, the procedure did not adequately seal the pleural space, resulting in another pleural effusion. If it doesn’t work, pleurodesis may be repeated. Alternatively, a surgeon may install a shunt to drain fluids regularly.

Pleural effusion is a common and uncomfortable complication of mesothelioma. Treatment does not cure the underlying cause but can make a big difference to how a patient feels. If you are suffering from regular pleural effusions, talk to your doctor about your options. Pleurodesis may be an option to help you live more comfortable.

Page Edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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