Airway stenting

D E Wood
Chest Surgery Clinics of North America 2001, 11 (4): 841-60
Various airway pathologies may result in central airway obstruction. For patients who have benign and malignant disease, definitive surgical correction by tracheobronchial resection and reconstruction is preferred. Numerous patients, however, have unresectable airway lesions owing to the extent of disease or to medical or surgical contraindications. These patients can be palliated by several endoscopic strategies, including dilatation, core out of tumor, laser resection, endobronchial brachytherapy, or photodynamic therapy. Airway stenting with silicone or expandable metal stents provides reliable and durable palliation in 80% to 95% of properly selected patients. The major advantages of silicone stents are the ease of customization, repositioning, and removal, with the major drawbacks being stent migration or stent obstruction. Expandable metal stents have the advantage of ease of insertion, conformation to the airway, low inner-to-outer diameter ratio, and stent stability. These advantages, however, are offset by (1) the development of tumor ingrowth or of granulation at the end of the stent or through the interstices of the stent and (2) the difficulty or impossibility of stent repositioning or removal once it has been seated completely within the airway. Management of the patient who has central airway obstruction requires a thorough knowledge and consideration of the surgical and endoscopic management options and, usually, a multidisciplinary approach, with experienced thoracic surgical consultation to evaluate the potential for definitive surgical correction. The interventional bronchoscopist must consider the spectrum of endoscopic therapeutics fully. Most patients benefit from combining strategies in a flexible algorithm directed at optimizing patient outcomes. The benefits and risks of airway stenting must be considered in comparison with the other options for airway palliation. In refractory strictures, rapidly recurrent tumor, or extrinsic compression, endobronchial stenting likely will be necessary to achieve durable palliation of airway obstruction. The short- and long-term implications of airway stenting, including the complications of silicone versus expandable metal stents, should be considered thoroughly, while the physician bases treatment or procedure decisions on individual patient anatomy and expected natural history.


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