Background: Malignant pleural effusion (MPE) may occur in up to 50% of patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The majority of these patients have a poor performance status and a dismal prognosis, with survival duration ranging from 2 to 3 months. Since these patients are typically symptomatic from their MPE, prompt treatment is required. Patients with symptomatic MPE from NSCLC and poor performance scores (Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group [ECOG] score ≥ 2, Karnofsky performance status [KPS] score < 50) are generally not offered systemic chemotherapy. Treatment is palliative and includes intrapleural catheter drainage or chemical pleurodesis with talc, doxycycline, or bleomycin. None of the latter modalities prolong survival.
Objective: Our goal was to investigate the toxicity and therapeutic effect of a new therapeutic agent, Staphylococcus aureus superantigen (SSAg), a powerful T-cell stimulant administered intrapleurally to unselected, consecutive patients with MPE from NSCLC (stage IIIb with pleural effusion) and a poor performance status. By providing direct access of the SSAg to the bronchial and mediastinal lymphatics, we predicted that intrapleural administration of SSAg would induce resolution of MPE and prolong survival in this population with advanced NSCLC and a limited prognosis.
Methods: Fourteen consecutive, unselected patients with MPE from NSCLC and a median pretreatment KPS score of 40 (range, 10 to 60) received pleural instillation of SSAg, 100 to 400 pg, once or twice weekly (mean, 3.7 ± 1.3 treatments [± SD]) until the pleural effusions resolved. They were evaluated for drug toxicity, resolution, duration of MPE, and survival.
Results: Other than mild fever (maximum grade 2), toxicity of SSAg treatment was trivial and notably devoid of respiratory distress or hypotension. Eleven patients had a complete response (CR), and 3 patients had a partial response of their MPE. In 12 patients, the response endured for > 90 days, with a median time to recurrence of 5 months (range, 3 to 23 months). The median survival for the SSAg-treated group was 7.9 months (range, 2 to 36 months; 95% confidence interval [CI], 5.9 to 11.4 months), compared to a median survival of 2.5 months (range, 0.1 to 57 months; 95% CI, 1.3 to 3.4 months) for 18 consecutive, unselected patients with MPE from NSCLC (stage IIIb) treated with talc poudrage (p = 0.044). Survival duration of all 14 SSAg-treated cases and 13 talc-poudrage-treated patients with comparable pretreatment KPS (range, 10 to 60; median, 40 and 30, respectively), and distribution (p = 0.5) was 7.9 months (95% CI, 5.9 to 11.4 months) and 2.0 months (95% CI, 0.4 to 2.9 months), respectively (p = 0.0023). Nine of 14 patients treated with SSAg survived > 6 months, 4 patients survived > 9 months, and 3 patients survived > 350 days. One of the patients in the CR group has survived 36 months. None of the 13 talc-treated patients survived > 6 months.
Interpretation: In 14 unselected, consecutive patients with MPE from NSCLC and poor pretreatment performance (median KPS of 40), the intrapleural administration of SSAg was efficacious in resolving the MPE without any clinically important adverse effects. SSAg-treated patients with a median KPS of 40 (range, 10 to 60) had a median survival that exceeded that with talc poudrage, and was comparable to current systemic chemotherapy used in patients with KPS ≥ 70 status. SSAg treatment is simple to perform, minimally invasive, and does not require hospital time. It may be an attractive alternative to existing palliative modalities for stage IIIb patients with MPE and poor performance who are not candidates for systemic chemotherapy.