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Current and future options for the diagnosis of malignant pleural effusion.

INTRODUCTION: Malignant pleural effusion (MPE) is a frequent problem faced by clinicians, but tumor pleural involvement can be seen without effusion.

AREAS COVERED: Imaging, pleural fluid analysis, biomarkers for MPE, needle pleural biopsy and thoracoscopy. To prepare this review, we performed a search using keywords: 'diagnosis' + 'malignant' + 'pleural' + 'effusion' (all fields) in PubMed, and found 4106 articles overall (until 16 January 2013, 881 in the last 5 years).

EXPERT OPINION: Ultrasound techniques will stay as valuable tools for pleural effusions. Biomarkers in pleural fluid do not currently provide an acceptable yield for MPE. In subjects with past history of asbestos exposure, some serum or plasma markers (soluble mesothelin, fibulin) might help in selecting cases for close follow-up, to detect mesothelioma early. Needle pleural biopsy is justified only if used with image-techniques (ultrasound or CT) guidance, and thoracoscopy is better for both diagnosis and immediate palliative treatment (pleurodesis). Animal models of MPE and 'spheroids' are promising for research involving both pathophysiology and therapy. Considering the possibility of direct pleural delivery of nanotechnology-developed compounds-fit to both diagnosis and therapy purposes ('theranostics')-MPE and mesothelioma in particular are likely to benefit sooner than later from this exciting perspective.

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