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Tracheal Tumors


Several medical conditions of the respiratory tract mimic the symptoms of the tracheal tumor. These include pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and asthma.

The diagnosis of the tracheal tumor can be made through the following methods:

  • Medical history and physical examination: The patients suspected of having airway disease undergo a comprehensive evaluation of the respiratory tract. The patients are also asked about the symptoms, their initiation, and progression to determine the appropriate cause of symptoms. Further, the medical history of patients is also analyzed to indicate the recurrence of the prior disease. Sometimes the family history of the patients is also evaluated as some of the respiratory diseases, such as asthma, run in families.
  • Blood tests: Blood tests cannot diagnose tracheal tumors. However, the patients may undergo blood tests to determine their overall health. Blood tests also measure carbon dioxide and oxygen levels in the blood along with blood pH, which helps analyze lung functioning. Further, blood tests are usually recommended before the start of the treatment in case the cancer is diagnosed.
  • Chest X-ray: Chest X-ray is a preferred imaging test for determining the cause of respiratory symptoms. However, in the early stage of tracheal cancer, the chest X-ray may not reveal any abnormalities in the X-ray results. Therefore, the patients are advised to undergo another test for detailed images of the chest, including the lungs and respiratory tract.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging: It has the advantage of analyzing both the anatomical and functional characteristics of the lungs. There is generally a good visualization of the trachea with MRI; however, the results of MRI are less reproducible compared to CT and PET scans. In addition, further MRI takes longer time compared to CT and PET scans. One of the advantages of MRI is the lack of ionization radiation that offers benefits when frequent imaging is required, especially in children and adolescents.
  • Computed tomography scan: CT scan is the preferred imaging modality for analyzing the trachea and surrounding structures. It creates high-quality images to evaluate the structure and appearance of the trachea. Further, it provides valuable information about the invasion of tumors in the mediastinal region and compression of the airway by mediastinal masses. CT scans also inform radiologists about tissue characteristics, such as the fatty component or calcification of the lesions.
  • PET scan: PET scan detects the presence of cells with abnormally high metabolic activity. It involves injecting the radioactive derivative of the sugar, such as fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG). The cancer cells take up the derivative, which is then detected through a special camera. A PET scan is usually used for staging tracheal cancer for developing the treatment strategy.
  • Bronchoscopy: Bronchoscopy is the technique to evaluate the respiratory tract. It involves using a bronchoscope, a thin, long tube with a video camera at the end. The procedure is performed under the effect of sedative medications. The numbing medicine may also be sprayed on the throat to minimize discomfort. The bronchoscope is inserted into the nose or throat and is guided into the respiratory tract. Bronchoscopy is used to determine the causes of respiratory symptoms, detect abnormal cells, or identify swelling in the nearby lymph nodes. If any abnormal cells are visualized, the cancer specialist may take the samples for further examination. In some cases, the patients may undergo rigid bronchoscopy that involves using a rigid bronchoscope.
  • Lung function tests: The respiratory specialists may also evaluate the functional capacity of the lungs. The pulmonary function tests determine lung capacity, lung volume, gaseous exchange, and flow rate.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound: Endoscopic ultrasound is similar to bronchoscopy with the difference that sound waves are used to create images of internal structures of the respiratory system. The images are relayed on the computer screen for analysis.

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