Patient Education - Lung Cancer Program at UCLA
yourself about lung cancer:
Pleural tap; Thoracentesis
Thoracentesis is a procedure to remove fluid from the space between the lining of the
outside of the lungs (pleura) and the wall of the chest. Normally, very little fluid is present
in this space. An accumulation of excess fluid between the layers of the pleura is called
a pleural effusion.
Pleural fluid aspiration; Pleural tap; Thoracentesis
How the Test is Performed
A small area of skin on your chest or back is washed with a sterilizing solution. Some
numbing medicine (local anesthetic) is injected in this area. A needle is then placed through
the skin of the chest wall into the space around the lungs called the pleural space. Fluid
is withdrawn and collected and may be sent to a laboratory for analysis (pleural fluid analysis).
How to Prepare for the Test
No special preparation is needed before the procedure. A chest x-ray is may be performed
before and after the test.
Do not cough, breathe deeply, or move during the test to avoid injury to the lung.
How the Test Will Feel
You will on a bed or sit on the edge of a chair or bed with your head and arms resting
on a table. The skin around the procedure site is disinfected and the area is draped. A local
anesthetic is injected into the skin. The thoracentesis needle is inserted above the rib
into the pleural space.
There will be a stinging sensation when the local anesthetic is injected, and you may
feel a sensation of pressure when the needle is inserted into the pleural space.
Inform your health care provider if you develop shortness of breath or chest pain.
Why the Test is Performed
The test is performed to determine the cause of the fluid accumulation or to relieve
the symptoms associated with the fluid accumulation.
Normally the pleural cavity contains only a very small amount of fluid.
What Abnormal Results Mean
The analysis of the fluid will indicate possible causes of pleural effusion such as infection,
cancer, heart failure, cirrhosis, and kidney disease. If infection is suspected, a culture
of the fluid is often done to determine whether microorganisms are present and if so, to
Additional conditions under which the test may be performed include the following:
- Pulmonary veno-occlusive disease
- Pulmonary embolism
- Thyroid disease
- Collagen vascular disease
- Asbestos-related pleural effusion
- Drug reactions
- Pneumothorax (collapse of the lung)
- Fluid re-accumulation
- Pulmonary edema
- Respiratory distress
A chest x-ray is often done after the procedure to detect possible complications.
Reviewed By: David A. Kaufman, M.D., Assistant Professor, Division of Pulmonary, Critical
Care & Sleep Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY. Review provided
by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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