(See also Overview of Lung Tumors.)
The windpipe (trachea), throat (pharynx), and voice box (larynx) can develop tumors that either grow into the structures or press on them, blocking breathing. Tumors from elsewhere in the body may also spread to these areas (metastasis).
Tumors that develop in the trachea are rare. They are often cancerous (malignant) and found at a locally advanced stage (having spread to nearby tissue or lymph nodes).
The most common malignant tracheal tumors include squamous cell carcinoma, adenoid cystic carcinoma, carcinoid tumors, and mucoepidermoid carcinomas.
The most common noncancerous (benign) airway tumor is a squamous papilloma, although other benign conditions can also occur.
Doctors may consider an airway tumor if symptoms develop gradually and if standard treatments are ineffective, for example, if drugs used to treat asthma do not relieve wheezing. If an airway tumor is suspected, doctors do bronchoscopy. Bronchoscopy can both relieve airway blockage and allow specimens to be obtained for diagnosis. If cancer is found, more extensive testing for staging is done.
If surgery is not possible, certain less invasive procedures can be used to remove some of the tumor. Laser vaporization, photodynamic therapy, cryotherapy, and endobronchial brachytherapy are options to remove tumor blocking an airway. If a tumor presses on the trachea, doctors may insert a stent to hold the trachea open or use radiation therapy to shrink the tumor.