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J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 2011 Jan;141(1):34-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jtcvs.2010.09.015. Epub 2010 Nov 18.

Pericardial effusions in the cancer population: prognostic factors after pericardial window and the impact of paradoxical hemodynamic instability.

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Thoracic Service, Department of Surgery, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY 10065, USA.



In the cancer population, pericardial effusions are a common and potentially life-threatening occurrence. Although decompression benefits most patients, paradoxical hemodynamic instability (PHI) develops in some, with hypotension and shock in the immediate postoperative period. This study examines paradoxical hemodynamic instability after pericardial window and identifies prognostic factors in patients with cancer who are treated for pericardial effusion.


Retrospective review of 179 consecutive pericardial windows performed for pericardial effusion in a tertiary cancer center over a 5-year period (January 2004 through March 2009). Demographic, surgical, pathologic, and echocardiographic data were analyzed for the end points of paradoxical hemodynamic instability (pressor-dependent hypotension requiring intensive care unit admission) and overall survival.


The most common malignancies were lung (44%), breast (20%), hematologic (10%), and gastrointestinal (7%). Overall survival for the group was poor (median, 5 months); patients with hematologic malignant disease fared significantly better than the others (median survival 36 months; P = .008). Paradoxical hemodynamic instability occurred in 19 (11%) patients. These patients were more likely to have evidence of tamponade on echocardiogram (89% vs 56%; P = .005), positive cytology/pathology (68% vs 41%; P = .03), and higher volume drained (674 mL vs 495 mL; P = .003). Overall survival was significantly shorter in those in whom paradoxical hemodynamic instability developed (median survival 35 vs 189 days; hazard ratio = 3; P < .001), and the majority of them (11/19, 58%) did not survive their hospitalization.


Postoperative hemodynamic instability after pericardial window portends a grave prognosis. Evidence of tamponade, larger effusion volumes, and positive cytologic findings may predict a higher risk of paradoxical hemodynamic instability and anticipate a need for invasive monitoring and intensive care postoperatively.

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