If you or a loved one suffer from mesothelioma, then you know how difficult it can be to deal with the symptoms of this asbestos cancer. The pain in your chest wall, shortness of breath, constant coughing, and especially fluid buildup around the lungs can create some extremely uncomfortable conditions for many sufferers. While your physician may offer a number of solutions to help you deal with these symptoms, the most viable option for combating the fluid buildup is a surgical procedure known as thoracentesis.
Thoracentesis is designed to effectively remove the fluid that accumulates in the area between the chest walls and the lung, known as the pleural space. The process of thoracentesis is performed with either a needle or plastic catheter that is inserted into the pleural space through the chest wall.
For those who suffer from malignant mesothelioma, the accumulation of fluid in this area escalates to a condition defined as plural effusion which can lead to difficulty breathing. When the accumulation of fluid reaches this level, patients are highly encouraged to undergo thoracentesis. This surgical procedure can not only improve the patient’s breathing, but it can also confirm whether the pleural effusion is related to mesothelioma or some other condition such as heart failure, pneumonia, pulmonary embolism, tuberculosis, or other lung infections. It can also determine if the cause is related to sarcoidosis, asbestosis, or some negative drug reaction.
Preparing for Thoracentesis
If you’ve decided to go forward with the thoracentesis procedure, there are a few things your physician may ask you to do in order to prepare yourself.
You may be asked to:
- Sign a consent form
- Submit to a chest X-ray and have some blood drawn for testing
- Abstain from food and drink from midnight up until the time of the procedure
- Relieve yourself before your thoracentesis so your bladder will be empty
- Be sure to speak with your physician about concerns you have regarding thoracentesis before you consent..
The Process of Thoracentesis
In most cases, the process of thoracentesis doesn’t take very long. Your doctor will have you lean forward onto a pillow that’s placed onto a table as you sit on the edge of the bed. The physician will then use a liquid soap to clean the area around your lower ribs. Next, the doctor may implement a CT scan or ultrasound in order to identify a particular spot(s) in your lung(s) to insert the needle.
After that, your physician will place the needle into the spot(s) identified until it reaches the pleural space where the fluid buildup lies. At this point you may become uncomfortable, but be sure to remain still and take slow, deep breaths. As fluid is drained from the pleural space you may also feel the urge to cough, but do your best to resist. Once your doctor removes the needle, he may ask you to hold your breath as he places a bandage over the site where the needle was inserted.
After thoracentesis, you should rest for the remainder of the day and keep your activity to a minimum. Pushing or lifting anything that weighs over 10 pounds is highly discouragedﾠ for the 1-2 days following your procedure. In most cases, your physician will allow you to resume working 24 hours after the thoracentesis, but there are other cases where more time off work may be required. Immediately alert your doctor if you begin to experience shortness of breath that is more pronounced than usual.