Endoscopic treatment of malignant airway obstructions in 2,008 patients

Chest. 1996 Dec;110(6):1536-42. doi: 10.1378/chest.110.6.1536.


We report our 13-year experience with endoscopic treatment of malignant obstructions of the airway by Nd:YAG laser, stents, and intraluminal brachytherapy in 2,008 patients. We performed 2,610 laser resections in 1,838 patients, 66 high dose rate brachytherapies, and we placed 393 tracheobronchial silicone stents in 306 patients. We used the rigid bronchoscope in 96% of the laser procedures and in all cases requiring stent placement; general anesthesia was given to 90% of these patients. Endobronchial radiotherapy was performed under local, anesthesia. In 93% of patients undergoing laser resection, we obtained an immediate patency of the airway with consequent improvement of quality of life. The median time between the first and second laser treatment was 102 days, being longer in the case of stent placement (when required) or in association with brachytherapy. Even if endoscopic treatment should be considered only for palliation, laser vaporization could be curative in case of in situ carcinoma. Since 1983, we have treated 23 such lesions in 17 patients and up to now, none has recurred. Finally, endoscopic resection may allow a better assessment of the true extent of the tumor, shifting to surgery patients originally considered to have inoperable disease or allowing lung-sparing operations (21 and 18 patients of our series, respectively). The total mortality rate was 0.4% (12 patients over 2,798 treatments; 2,710 Nd:YAG laser + 151 stents without laser + 37 brachytherapies without laser) in the first week after the procedures, and was mainly related to cardiovascular problems and respiratory failure. In conclusion, endoscopic resection of lung malignancies is rapid, effective, repeatable, and complementary to other treatments; although it should be considered only palliative, laser resection could be curative in patients with in situ carcinomas and early cancers. Laser, stents, and endoluminal brachytherapy should be available in all centers with major experience; a well-trained team is mandatory to plan the most appropriate treatment and manage any possible complication.

MeSH terms

  • Brachytherapy / adverse effects
  • Bronchial Diseases / etiology
  • Bronchial Diseases / therapy*
  • Bronchoscopy*
  • Constriction, Pathologic
  • Humans
  • Laser Therapy / adverse effects
  • Lung Neoplasms / complications*
  • Lung Neoplasms / therapy
  • Stents
  • Tracheal Stenosis / etiology
  • Tracheal Stenosis / therapy*