The journal Chest recently published a study indicating that cryosurgery is a safe and effective technique for improving symptoms of airway obstruction often experienced by patients with inoperable cancer of the bronchial tubes.

The bronchial tubes are two branches of the trachea that extend to the right and left lung. The trachea and bronchial tubes are part of the airway system, and allow air to be exchanged between the lungs and the outside of the body.

Patients diagnosed with lung cancer often have tumors located inside the bronchial tubes (endobronchial)-these producing airway obstruction. Symptoms include shortness of breath, cough and hemoptysis (coughing up blood).

Due to tumor location or personal health status, more than 80 percent of patients with these types of obstructing tumors are not candidates for surgery to remove the tumor. In such cases, a technique called cryosurgery may be helpful in alleviating the patient’s symptoms. In cryosurgery, an alternative to surgery, abnormal cells are frozen and killed. Cryosurgery’s benefits include fewer side effects than other treatments, lower cost and a shorter recovery period. However, the technique is still the focus of intense study, and its long-term benefits are still being evaluated.

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This recent study, which was conducted over 5 years, included patients with obstructive lung cancer. Researchers reviewed the charts of 172 patients who underwent at least two sessions of endobronchial cryosurgery and compared them to 157 other patients who had only one session of cryosurgery. Results of the study found that shortness of breath, cough and hemoptysis were significantly improved in both groups after receiving cryosurgery. However, a greater benefit was seen among the patients who received two cryosurgery treatments. As well, the average overall survival among the patients who received two treatments was higher than the single-treatment group-15 months versus 8.3 months. Further analysis revealed that no particular patient or tumor characteristic was associated with reduced symptoms, although there was a slight benefit among women with stage IIIA or IIIB lung cancer.

Researchers concluded that cryosurgery is a safe form of treatment for improving the symptoms associated with obstructive lung cancer and may be a consideration for patients who are not surgical candidates. Patients are encouraged to speak to their physician regarding their treatment options.

Reference: Asmakopoulos G, Beeson J, Evans J, et al. Cryosurgery for Malignant Endobrachial Tumors. Chest; 127: 2007-2014.

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