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Airway Tumors


Robert L. Keith

, MD, Division of Pulmonary Sciences and Critical Care Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine

Last full review/revision Jul 2020| Content last modified Jul 2020
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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.

Symptoms of Airway Tumors

Symptoms of airway tumors include

  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)

  • Coughing

  • Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)

  • Wheezing or other abnormal breathing noises

Difficulty swallowing and hoarseness can also be present.

Diagnosis of Airway Tumors

  • Bronchoscopy

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 Bronchoscopy is a direct visual examination of the voice box (larynx) and airways through a viewing tube (a bronchoscope). A bronchoscope has a camera at the end that allows a doctor to look... read more Bronchoscopy . Bronchoscopy can both relieve airway blockage and allow specimens to be obtained for diagnosis.

Prognosis of Airway Tumors

Prognosis depends on the type of cancer. Cancers that spread to lymph nodes in the neck or chest or that grow into nearby structures tend to have a worse prognosis.

Treatment of Airway Tumors

  • Surgery

  • Radiation therapy

  • Obstruction reduction techniques

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 a 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.

More Information about Airway Tumors

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