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J Clin Oncol. 2005 Aug 1;23(22):5211-6.

Abnormal cytology predicts poor prognosis in cancer patients with pericardial effusion.

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Cardiovascular Medicine Division, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA 02115, USA.



Pericardial tamponade is a life-threatening disorder caused by varying medical conditions. Malignancy and complications of its treatment are a common cause of pericardial effusion. The natural history of pericardial effusion remains largely unknown. We investigated the association of malignancy with adverse outcomes after pericardiocentesis.


Consecutive patients undergoing pericardiocentesis at a single institution between January 1, 1999, and January 31, 2003, were included. Death was confirmed with the Social Security Death Index. Survival estimates were obtained by the Kaplan-Meier method. Cox regression was performed to determine the clinical characteristics associated with death.


Two hundred nineteen patients underwent pericardiocentesis during the study period. The effusion was cancer-related in 43.8% of cases. Median survival was 59.6 weeks (95% CI, 24.3 to 94.8 weeks). During the follow-up period, 47.9% of patients died. Cancer-related pericardial effusion was associated with decreased survival (median, 15.1 weeks). Abnormal fluid cytology was further associated with poor prognosis among patients with malignancy (median survival, 7.3 v 29.7 weeks; P = .022). Patients with cancer-related pericardial effusion were more likely to require repeat pericardiocentesis (OR = 6.0; P = .001) and pericardial surgery (odds ratio [OR] OR = 5.7; P < .001). Cancer-related effusion and abnormal cytology were independent predictors of death in a multivariate model.


Malignancy is the most common cause of pericardial effusion in a tertiary care center. Cancer-related pericardial effusion is associated with adverse outcomes, and abnormal cytology further worsens prognosis. The poor survival among cancer patients with pericardial effusion and abnormal fluid cytology may have important implications for management.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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