Laser bronchoscopy in respiratory failure from malignant airway obstruction

Crit Care Med. 1993 Mar;21(3):386-91. doi: 10.1097/00003246-199303000-00016.


Objective: To examine the value of laser bronchoscopy in patients with inoperable carcinoma of the lung who required ventilatory assistance for acute respiratory failure.

Design: Retrospective review of the medical records of all patients undergoing laser bronchoscopy.

Setting: The Lahey Clinic Medical Center, a tertiary referral center.

Patients: The medical records of 311 patients undergoing laser bronchoscopy at the Lahey Clinic Medical Center between 1982 and 1990 were reviewed. The 17 patients who required mechanical ventilation at the time of laser surgery formed the study group.

Interventions: All patients underwent neodymium:yttrium-aluminum-garnet laser bronchoscopy through a rigid bronchoscope in the operating room with use of jet ventilation and general anesthesia throughout the procedure. Postoperative care was directed by the same physician for all patients.

Measurements and main results: The following data were extracted from medical records: age and sex of patient, cell type and location of tumor, length of time between diagnosis and laser therapy, treatment before and after laser therapy, number of days receiving mechanical ventilation before and after laser therapy, medical and operative complications, survival, and cause of death. The patients were divided into two groups on the basis of clinical improvement that permitted elective discontinuation of mechanical ventilation. Group 1 included patients who experienced clinical improvement permitting endotracheal extubation. Group 2 was composed of patients who died while still receiving mechanical ventilatory support or who were extubated before institution of comfort measures. The two groups were compared using nonparametric tests of significance, including the Mann-Whitney test. No significant differences were apparent between groups 1 and 2 regarding clinical characteristics before laser treatment. Patients in group 1 had significantly (p = .03) shorter requirements for mechanical ventilation after laser treatment than patients in group 2 (1 vs. 6 days). Similarly, patients in group 1 were more likely to receive additional treatment after laser therapy than patients in group 2 (seven of nine patients vs. two of eight patients; p = .048). Patients in group 1 had significantly (p = .0038) longer survival than patients in group 2 (98 vs. 8.5 days). A greater endobronchial component to airway obstruction appeared to exist in patients in group 1 (nine of nine patients) vs. patients in group 2 (three of eight patients; p = .009). Extrinsic compression and submucosal tumor were more commonly seen in patients in group 2. In addition, patients in group 2 appeared to have a greater number of postoperative medical complications than patients in group 1. Operative complications were minor in both groups.

Conclusions: In nine of 17 patients, laser bronchoscopy appeared to improve the clinical status, permitting removal of mechanical ventilation and extubation and provided the opportunity for further treatment modalities in seven of the nine patients. Survival was improved in this subgroup, and requirement for mechanical ventilatory support was shortened. The improved outcome after laser therapy was related to the presence of obstructing endobronchial tumor as the cause of the respiratory insufficiency. Patients with inoperable carcinoma of the lung and respiratory failure should be evaluated for the presence of an endobronchial lesion that might be responsive to laser bronchoscopy.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Aged
  • Airway Obstruction / etiology
  • Airway Obstruction / surgery*
  • Bronchoscopy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Laser Coagulation*
  • Lung Neoplasms / complications*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Palliative Care
  • Respiration, Artificial
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / etiology*
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / therapy
  • Retrospective Studies