Background: Malignant central airway obstruction is difficult to manage and is associated with poor outcome. We sought to identify the short (< 30 days) and intermediate (> 30 days) benefits and risks of tracheobronchial stents in patients with malignant airway disease.
Methods: Two hundred and twenty-five tracheobronchial stents were placed in 172 patients for benign (n = 32) and malignant (n = 140) disease from January 1, 1997, to May 31, 2003. The records of the patients with malignant disease were retrospectively analyzed to determine complication rate, reintervention rate, and survival. The malignant diagnoses included nonsmall cell cancer, small cell cancer, esophageal cancer, and metastatic disease.
Results: There were 172 stents placed in 140 patients with malignant disease, with no intraoperative mortality. The mean follow-up period was 142 +/- 12 days. There were 23 complications, including tumor ingrowth (n = 9), excessive granulation tissue (n = 7), stent migration (n = 5), and restenosis (n = 2). Five of the complications occurred during the short-term period (< 30 days) with the remaining complications (n = 18) occurring after 30 days. The complications required interventions including laser debridement (n = 14), dilation (n = 4), and stent removal (n = 5).
Conclusions: Tracheobronchial stents offer minimally invasive palliative therapy for patients with unresectable malignant central airway obstruction. The benefit of airway stents is particularly seen in the short-term period where they provide symptomatic improvement and have low complication risk. The major impediment is excessive granulation tissue and tumor ingrowth, which occur primarily after 30 days.