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J Pain Symptom Manage. 2012 Aug;44(2):301-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2012.05.002.

To drain or not to drain: an evidence-based approach to palliative procedures for the management of malignant pleural effusions.

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Division of Geriatric Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, NC, USA.


Malignant pleural effusions are often symptomatic and diagnosed late in the course of cancer. The optimal management strategy is controversial and includes both invasive and non-invasive strategies. Practitioners have the option of invasive procedures such as intermittent drainage or more permanent catheter drainage to confirm malignancy and to palliate symptoms. Because these effusions are often detected late in the course of disease in patients who may have limited life expectancy, procedural management may be associated with harms that outweigh benefits. We performed a literature review to examine the available evidence for catheter drainage of malignant pleural effusions in advanced cancer and reviewed alternative management strategies for the management of dyspnea. We provide a clinical case within the context of the research evidence for invasive and non-invasive management strategies. Our intent is to help inform decision making of patients and families in collaboration with their health care practitioners and interventionists by weighing the risks and benefits of catheter drainage versus alternative medical management strategies for malignant pleural effusions.

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