Methods - A retrospective analysis was conducted of all patients who underwent pleural fluid (PF) sampling, in a single centre, over 3 years to determine the utility of the initial aspiration.
Results - A diagnosis of MPE was confirmed in 230/998 (23%) cases, a further 95/998 (9.5%) were presumed to represent MPE. Transudative biochemistry was found in 3% of cases of confirmed MPE. Positive PF cytology was only sufficient to guide management in 45/140 (32%) cases. Evidence of pleural thickening on CT was associated with both negative cytology (χ2 1df=26.27, p<0.001) and insufficient samples (χ2 1df=10.39, p=0.001). In NEL 44.4% of patients did not require further procedures after pleurodesis compared with 72.7% of those with expansile lung (χ2 1df=5.49, p=0.019). In patients who required a combined diagnostic and therapeutic aspiration 106/113 (93.8%) required further pleural procedures.
Conclusions - An initial pleural aspiration does not achieve either definitive diagnosis or therapy in the majority of patients. A new pathway prioritising symptom management while reducing procedures should be considered.