Find your care
When the airway becomes blocked or affected by lung cancer, it can cause severe discomfort and increase your risk of illnesses or death. At UCLA Health, we offer complete lung cancer care that includes treatment of airway complications associated with the disease.
Our interventional pulmonologists (lung specialists) and thoracic surgeons are leaders in the field of bronchoscopy, an advanced technique that allows physicians to view and treat the airways. They perform minimally invasive and innovative procedures to diagnose airway issues and manage respiratory concerns associated with lung cancer.
Our expert thoracic surgeons also perform complex airway operations to remove cancer, preserve lung tissue and repair the airways. These lung-preserving surgeries and advanced techniques benefit patients who are high risk for lung removal.
How does lung cancer affect the airway?
Because the lungs and airways are so connected, lung cancer sometimes causes complications within the airways. Common issues associated with lung cancer include nodules (small lumps), fistulas (holes in your airway wall) and other airway obstructions (blockages). These complications can result from the cancer itself or happen in response to lung cancer treatment.
Symptoms of airway problems include:
- Coughing up blood
- Shortness of breath
- Upper respiratory infections
Why choose UCLA Health for airway procedures
Our comprehensive cancer care includes interventional airway procedures for complications of lung cancer. When you choose UCLA Health to treat airway issues associated with lung cancer, you can expect:
Extensive experience: We perform the largest volume of bronchoscopy procedures in the southwest United States. Our physicians know how and when to use both traditional and advanced types of bronchoscopy.
Leaders in robotic bronchoscopy: Our interventional pulmonologists played an important role in the development of robotic bronchoscopy. Robotic bronchoscopy helps physicians view and treat hard-to-reach areas of the lungs and airways.
Advanced techniques: Our expertise in interventional pulmonology and thoracic surgery allows us to offer the latest minimally invasive techniques that are not widely available. We can perform both airway and pleural procedures together to reduce your time in the hospital and speed up your recovery.
Compassionate support: You’ll find oncology (cancer) nurse navigators and specialized nurse practitioners by your side every step of the way. Our wide range of support services keeps you comfortable during your lung cancer care.
How we use bronchoscopy
When airway complications arise, our interventional pulmonologists perform advanced, minimally invasive airway procedures using bronchoscopy. This technology involves a thin tube fitted with a light and camera.
We insert the tube through your mouth or nose, down your throat and into the airways of your lungs. Bronchoscopy allows us to look into the airway and administer treatment without making large incisions.
Our expertise means we can perform a wide range of airway procedures to relieve your symptoms. The types of bronchoscopies we use include:
Flexible bronchoscopy: We use a thin, bendable bronchoscope to see into smaller airways, deliver medicine and collect tissue samples (biopsy).
Rigid bronchoscopy: A straight, metal tube with a larger diameter gives us a better view of the airway and the ability to use larger tools to clear airway blockages.
Robotic bronchoscopy: We use a handheld controller to precisely navigate this small, flexible bronchoscope into remote areas of the lungs and airways.
Our approach to airway complications from lung cancer
We use bronchoscopy to perform airway procedures for many reasons. These procedures help us diagnose the problem and provide therapeutic treatment whenever possible.
Our lung specialists use every type of bronchoscopy to perform airway biopsies. We evaluate the collected tissue or nodules to diagnose lung cancer and understand the underlying cause for your symptoms.
Interventions for airway obstruction
Approximately 20% to 30% of patients with lung cancer develop problems associated with airway obstruction (blockage). We treat airway obstructions with procedures that include:
Argan plasma coagulation (APC): We burn (cauterize) the end of blood vessels in the airway to stop excessive bleeding and provide relief from coughing up blood.
Cryotherapy: We use a bronchoscope to rapidly freeze and slowly thaw tissue that may be blocking your airway. The freeze and thaw cycles eventually destroy tissue and open the airway.
Endobronchial brachytherapy: We use a bronchoscope to deliver high-dose radiation (brachytherapy) to tumors located within the airway.
Laser therapy: We use lasers attached to the end of a bronchoscope to burn away tumors and open up the airway.
Stenting: Our physicians place a support made of silicone and/or metal into your airway to maintain the structure and help you breathe better.
Treatment for early-stage lung cancer
For patients who cannot have surgery, we offer minimally invasive options as another way to treat the cancer. Using advanced bronchoscopy, we treat select inoperable early-stage lung cancers to improve the patient’s symptoms, such as shortness of breath or airway bleeding (hemoptysis).