Pleural effusion Lung cancer

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My father has had a left side unilateral pleural effusion covering down his side and round left side of his back since May 15th CT scan revealed a tumour on left lung. Sample of fluid has been sent for testing and if negative doctor says lung biopsy might have to be next step. Why couldn’t they drain all the fluid then rather than a sample only? And what is the outlook with the pleural effusion I keep reading only months to live but my father is outwardly fit just tired 

  • Good Morning ElaineYahoo,

    Thanks for getting in touch and welcome to our Online Community. We hope that you find it a safe and supportive space. My name is Fiona and I’m one of the Cancer Information Nurse Specialists on the Macmillan Support Line.

    I’m sorry to hear about your father, this must be a worrying time for you all.

    As you may be aware, a pleural effusion may a sign of the presence of a lung cancer. Aspirating some of the fluid to help diagnose the cause of the effusion is relatively simple to do, whereas having the effusion drained is much more invasive and tends to be done only if someone has symptoms caused by the effusion, such as increasing breathlessness. If you have any questions about this please do contact your father’s hospital team to discuss further.

    The outlook for your father will depend very much on what is causing the effusion. They can be caused by other conditions, such as heart failure, however because your father has been found to have possible tumour on his left lung it is understandable that a biopsy has been mentioned.

    Waiting for tests to be arranged then waiting for results can be a difficult time so please do reach out for support for yourself. If you’d like to talk things through our nurses are available on the Support Line every day and are always happy to give you further information and support.

    I hope this information is helpful but if you have any more questions please don’t hesitate to get back in touch.

    Ref FS/MH

    Cancer Information Nurse Specialist

    You can also speak with the Macmillan Support Line team of experts. Phone free on 0808 808 0000 (7 days a week, 8am-8pm) or send us an email.



  • Thank you Fiona. My father bloods came back all normal. His pleural effusion sample for testing did not show cancer cells. They are still considering it’s cancer as he has several nodules of concerning features in his pleura on left lung only. With some pleural thickening.  He has one swollen adrenal gland a couple of cysts in abdominal area and a bulging bowel on one area ( he has divercultis ) They are unsure if the abnormality started in lung or is secondary and started elsewhere. They say only VATS surgery biopsy will provide the answers. Does this sound to you based on findings of asbestos related cancer or secondary to you? He feels the pain on left side where pleural effusion was has improved now. Consultantant struggled to get a sample due to being loculated 20ml was managed. was this enough for detecting cancer cells? Is this good news that if cancer it has not spread ? Thank you 


  • Dear Elaineyahoo,

    Thank you for getting back in touch with us. I’m Gemma, one of Fiona’s nurse colleagues here at the Macmillan cancer support line service.

    It sounds as though you may be getting closer to having answers to what had caused your father’s pleural effusion from the new information in your reply. When a loved one is going through tests and investigations for suspected cancer, it can be a difficult time for everyone, it’s completely understandable that you would want to try to predict what your father’s specific details may mean for him.

    The answers to these questions are often unclear until all the information has been gathered; for example, it is the cancer cells that usually hold the best information about where it started from, so often a biopsy is needed for that answer.

    Mesothelioma is the cancer most commonly associated with asbestos, and it can affect the lining of the lungs. When mesothelioma is diagnosed, it is ‘staged’ according to where it is found in the body.  This helps to guide the specialist team about the best course of treatment for each person as an individual.

    Your father’s hospital team are best place to answer the questions about what his results so far may mean for him as an individual.  As we are completely separate to NHS services here at the support line, we have no access to records or hospital systems, and so are unable to give individualised opinion or advice.

    Supporting a loved one with cancer can cause a wide range of fears for all of you. Please do your best to look after your emotional and physical well-being; If there is anything we can do to support you too please do get back in touch. 

    You might also like to join another one of our forums, to connect with others in a similar situation. Such as our friendly Family and Friends forum online.

    With kind regards,

    Gemma, Cancer Information Nurse Specialist 

    You can also speak with the Macmillan Support Line team of experts. Phone free on 0808 808 0000 (7 days a week, 8am-8pm) or send us an email