Do you know of a procedure call "pleurodesis"? Is it a complicated surgery? My father, who is 73 years old, has lung cancer but is weak. Would it be wise to do this surgery? Or would the risks of the procedure be too high in him? Would it be better to just drain the fluid in his lungs every time the fluid builds up?
Joseph B. Shrager, MD, Thoracic Surgeon, responds:
Pleurodesis is the use of a drug that causes inflammation and scarring on the lung surfaces so that the space closes and fluid cannot accumulate there. It is usually better to have a pleurodesis done, as this is the only way to make it likely that the fluid will not continue to come back. You should be aware, however, that it does not need to be done with general anesthesia (i.e., as a "surgery"). It can be done either through a simple chest tube, which can be placed under local anesthesia at the bedside, or in the operating room during a "video thoracoscopy" procedure, which does require general anesthesia. With the chest tube method, your father would usually need to be in the hospital for about 3 days. Either way, it is not a complicated or very risky procedure, but if he is very weak, it is probably more prudent to have it done with the chest tube and without general anesthesia.