About the disease
Tracheal cancer originates in the trachea (or windpipe), which connects the larynx to the lungs, and allows air into the respiratory system. The most predominant type of this cancer is squamous cells carcinoma, which originates in the skin cells.
Tracheal cancer usually develops in the lower part of the trachea. It is important to treat tracheal cancer in its initial stages, as there is a possibility of it metastasizing to the lungs and larynx. Incidence of lung cancer is 180 times more likely than a tracheal tumor.
Tracheal cancer is considered to be rare, accounting for less than 1% of all malignant formations. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) the annual rate of tracheal cancer is 2.6 cases per million people. It is more common in men than in women. It most often develops after 50-60 years of age.
- Continuous dry cough
- Problems breathing
- Frequent lung infections
- Pain in the throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Hemoptysis (coughing up blood)
- Changes in your voice
Coughing up blood can also be caused by an ulcer in the trachea, which may be an indicator of malignancy. Overall, tracheal cancer has similar symptoms to asthma, which is why it is often misdiagnosed. It is most often caused by smoking and harmful environmental factors.
- A laryngoscopy allows a doctor to examine the trachea’s upper section, to determine whether there are any changes in its appearance.
- A bronchoscopy is a more precise diagnostic method, as it allows the doctor to examine further down the trachea through to the bronchi, which could also undergo certain changes due to tracheal cancer.
- A CT scan is administered to get a 3-D image of the trachea, to determine the extent of the cancer.
- A biopsy can be performed to study a tissue sample, if the presence of malignant cells in tracheal tissue is suspected.
- Chemotherapy administers a high dose of drugs, with the aim to kill malignant cells.
- Radiotherapy creates high-intensity rays, which scatter and destroy malignant cells in the trachea.
- Resection with tracheostoma placement is a surgical procedure whereby cancerous tissue is resected and an opening in the neck is created to place a tube inside the windpipe, to maintain the breathing function.
- Resection of the tumor with plastic reconstruction of the trachea also involves resection of the malignant formation. Afterwards, the surgeon repairs any stenotic lesions and preserves the oxygen and blood supply by reconstructing the trachea.
Overall, surgeries performed in the early stages of tracheal cancer give good results, with an operative mortality rate of only 5%.