Background: Pericardial effusion in the patient with cancer presents a unique management problem. Although multiple methods of operative and nonoperative drainage of pericardial effusions have been described, surgical pericardial window remains the standard approach to long-term drainage. Selecting the patient who may benefit from an operative approach presents a difficult challenge. In the present study, we retrospectively analyzed the clinical outcome of 63 consecutive patients with malignancy who underwent surgical pericardial window for symptomatic pericardial effusion between January 1, 1990, and July 1, 2001, at City of Hope National Medical Center in order to try to determine whether the type of cancer, the presence of malignant cells in pericardial fluid, or tissue specimens or the method of surgery influenced the incidence of recurrent pericardial effusion or duration of survival.
Methods: The cohort was comprised of 15 patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), 22 patients with breast cancer, 17 patients with hematologic malignancy, and 9 patients with other solid tumors. Pertinent clinical, laboratory, hospital stay, and outcome data including long-term follow-up were recorded. Patients were followed up until the time of last clinical follow-up or death. Univariate survival analyses were performed to determine significant clinical factors contributing to outcome.
Results: Median follow-up was 6.6 months for the group and 8.3 months for those alive at last follow-up. Median survival rates for patients with lung, breast, hematologic, and other solid-tumor malignancies were 3.2 months, 8.8 months, 17 months, and 16.4 months, respectively. Preoperative factors that negatively correlated with survival included a diagnosis of NSCLC (p = 0.0014), the presence of a pleural effusion (p = 0.003), or positive pathologic (p = 0.02) or cytologic findings (p = 0.02).
Conclusions: A surgical approach to pericardial drainage is effective (< 5% failure rate) and provides an opportunity for continued therapy with the potential for relief of dyspnea and improvement in quality of life and survival in selected patients.