Pleural Effusion and an Axillary Mass in a Woman With Hypertension

Maurie Markman, MD


March 30, 2021

Physical Examination and Workup

The patient appears well and is in no acute distress. The patient is afebrile, with a blood pressure of 135/85 mm Hg, a respiratory rate of 16 breaths/min, and a pulse of 72 beats/min. Her weight is 148 lb (67 kg), and she has no reported recent weight loss.

Examination of the skin reveals no suspicious lesions. Scars from the previous removal of the basal cell carcinomas are noted, but no evidence suggests recurrence.

Results of the head and neck examination are unremarkable; specifically, no abnormal cervical lymphadenopathy is detected. The cardiac and chest examination results are normal. The lungs are clear to percussion and auscultation. The breast examination reveals no abnormal masses. The right axilla is unremarkable; however, a single 3 × 2 cm, nontender, firm, movable but partially fixed mass is noted in the left axilla.

The abdomen appears normal, with no ascites or enlargement of the liver. The pelvic examination reveals evidence of previous surgery and local radiation but no signs of recurrence of cervical cancer. The lymph nodes appear normal, except for the findings noted above. Results of the neurologic examination are unremarkable.

Complete blood cell count, serum electrolyte levels, renal function tests, and urinalysis are all normal. Liver function tests are normal except for a mildly elevated serum alkaline phosphatase level. The fecal occult blood test result is negative.

Chest radiography reveals a suspicious small left-sided pleural effusion. No other abnormalities are observed, and no prior chest radiographs are available to compare with the current findings.

Chest CT confirms the presence of a possible small pleural effusion, with no other abnormalities noted. The radiologist suggests it will not be possible to obtain fluid safely through an interventional procedure, owing to the limited (if any) amount of fluid present. Furthermore, the radiologist recommends PET/CT to look for other evidence of metastatic cancer in the lungs or elsewhere.

Bilateral mammograms reveal no suspicious abnormalities, and the results are unchanged from a previous examination 11 months earlier. Figure 1 shows a similar bilateral mammogram in another patient. Breast MRI shows no evidence of cancer. Figure 2 shows similar breast MRI findings in another patient.

Figure 1.

Figure 2.

CT of the abdomen and pelvis reveals no changes compared with a scan obtained 2 years earlier for follow-up of the previous diagnosis of cervical cancer. Specifically, no evidence suggests ascites or any pelvic masses.

An incisional biopsy sample is obtained from the left axillary mass. Light microscopy reveals a moderately well-differentiated adenocarcinoma. Immunostaining shows the cancer to be cytokeratin (CK) 7 positive and CK 20 negative (CK 7+/CK 20-, thyroid transcription factor 1 (TTF-1) negative, thyroglobulin negative, napsin A negative, and mammaglobin positive. The tumor is estrogen receptor positive (2% staining), progesterone receptor negative, and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) negative.


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