Endoscopic relief of malignant airway obstruction

Ann Thorac Surg. 1989 Oct;48(4):469-73; discussion 473-5. doi: 10.1016/s0003-4975(10)66842-7.


The ability to manage acute airway obstruction can be life-saving. Airway relief should be expeditious and immediate, with low morbidity and mortality. It should not interfere with future definitive therapy. In patients with terminal malignancy, it should be economical in cost and should minimize hospitalization. We used biopsy forceps and the rigid bronchoscope to "core out" 56 patients with obstructing airway neoplasms. The location of the obstruction was trachea in 16 patients, carina in 24, main bronchi in 8, and distal airway in 8. Improvement in the airway was accomplished in 90% of patients. A single bronchoscopy was sufficient in 96%. Nineteen complications occurred in 11 patients: pneumonia in 5, bleeding in 3, pneumothorax in 2, hypoxia/hypercarbia in 2, arrhythmias in 6, and laryngeal edema in 1. There were four deaths within 2 weeks of core-out related to respiratory failure. Further therapy consisted of resection in 28.6% (tracheal in 9, carinal in 3, pulmonary in 4), irradiation alone or in combination with chemotherapy in 60.7%, and no therapy in 10.7%. Palliation of symptoms and establishment of an airway in acute obstruction is the goal. Survival depends on the effectiveness of the proposed treatment. We find this time-honored method superior to use of the laser.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Airway Obstruction / etiology
  • Airway Obstruction / surgery*
  • Bronchial Neoplasms / complications*
  • Bronchial Neoplasms / mortality
  • Bronchial Neoplasms / surgery
  • Bronchoscopes
  • Bronchoscopy / adverse effects
  • Bronchoscopy / methods
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Laser Therapy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Palliative Care / methods*
  • Tracheal Neoplasms / complications*
  • Tracheal Neoplasms / mortality
  • Tracheal Neoplasms / surgery