What is a Pleuroscopy and How is it Done?

Pleuroscopy for Diagnosis and Treatment of Pleural Effusions

surgeons looking at a CT scan while doing a pleuroscopy
What is a pleuroscopy?. Istockphoto.com/Stock Photo©XiXinXing

Definition: Pleuroscopy

A pleuroscopy is a medical procedure in which doctors can examine the pleural cavity, the space between the 2 layers of tissue (the pleura) that line the lungs. This procedure is done in an operating suite or room with anesthesia and is known as a "minimally invasive procedure."


During a pleuroscopy, a tube called a pleuroscope is inserted into the pleural cavity through a small incision in the chest wall.

The physician, under sterile technique, will first numb the skin through which the tube will be inserted. You may be given local anesthesia, but most commonly this procedure is done while you are asleep in the operating suite.

With the help of a special camera at the end of the tube, your doctor can then visualize the pleural cavity to look for any abnormalities. She can take samples (biopsies) if needed, sample and drain fluid (if needed) and for those with recurrent pleural effusions, can insert a chemical that causes the linings of the lungs to stick together, a procedure called pleurodesis.

Reasons to do a Pleuroscopy - Indications

A pleuroscopy may be done for either making a diagnosis, or to address a build-up of fluid in the pleural space. Some of the reasons for a pleuroscopy include;

Diagnostic Indications

  • To visualize the pleura for any abnormalities.
  • To take a sample of fluid from a pleural effusion to look for infection or cancerous cells in the fluid.  A malignant pleural effusion is a pleural effusion which contains cancerous cells. This is done through attaching a vacuum to the end of the tube to withdraw fluid.
  • To take a biopsy of the pleura or the lungs.  

Treatment Indications

  • To drain a pleural effusion.
  • To do a pleurodesis - This is a procedure in which a chemical is inserted into the pleural cavity causing the 2 layers of pleura (the parietal pleura and the visceral pleura) to become inflamed and stick together. Once this occurs fluid is unable to recollect in the pleural space.


    The risk of a pleuroscopy is relatively low, with complications occurring in only 2 to 5 percent of people.  Some of these complications may include:

    • Bleeding from the tube insertion site or within the chest.
    • Infection.
    • A pneumothorax (collapse of  lung.)
    • Pain.
    • Injury to organs in the chest cavity.


    Your surgeon will let you know after the procedure if she finds anything that appears abnormal. If you have a build-up of fluid, she will let you know how successful the procedure was in removing this fluid.  If a sample of the effusion was taken to look for cancerous cells, you may have to wait until a pathologist has a chance to look at this in the lab.

    Examples Jack's lung cancer doctor recommended a pleuroscopy with injection of talc into the pleural space to treat his malignant pleural effusion.


    Michaud, G., Berkowitz, D., and A. Ernst. Pleuroscopy for diagnosis and therapy for pleural effusions. Chest. 2010. 138(5):1242-6.

    Sheski, F. An overview of medical thoracoscopy. UpToDate. Updated 07/14/15. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24841076

    Yap, K., Phillips, M., and Y. Lee. Medical thoracoscopy: rigid thoracoscopy or flexi-rigid pleuroscopy?. Current Opinions in Pulmonary Medicine. 2014. 20(4):358-65.

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