Is Tracheal Cancer Curable?

Reviewed on 1/25/2021

What Is Tracheal Cancer?

Tracheal cancer may sometimes be easily removed surgically, but these rare tumors tend to be quite deadly as people usually do not notice symptoms or start treatment until the cancer is significantly advanced. In general, only 15% of people are alive three years after a tracheal cancer diagnosis.
Tracheal cancer may sometimes be easily removed surgically, but these rare tumors tend to be quite deadly as people usually do not notice symptoms or start treatment until the cancer is significantly advanced. In general, only 15% of people are alive three years after a tracheal cancer diagnosis.

Tracheal cancer is a rare type of cancer that occurs when cells in the trachea (windpipe) grow out of control. 

The most common types of tracheal tumors include:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma
    • Most common type of tracheal tumor 
  • Fast-growing and usually develops in the lower portion of the trachea
  • Slow-growing tumors that can eventually close off the airway as they progress
    • Carcinoid tumors 
  • Slow growing, though more likely to be found in the bronchi than the trachea

What Are Symptoms of Tracheal Cancer?

Early symptoms of tracheal cancer are often mistaken for other respiratory disorders, such as asthma, bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 

Symptoms of tracheal cancer include:

What Causes Tracheal Cancer?

Squamous cell carcinoma, the most common type of tracheal tumor, is linked to smoking. The cause of other types of tracheal cancers are unknown. 

Hemangioma, a benign vascular tumor that can spread from the face to the neck, is a risk factor for developing tracheal cancer.

How Is Tracheal Cancer Diagnosed?

Tracheal cancer is diagnosed with a physical examination and patient history, and tests such as: 

What Is the Treatment for Tracheal Cancer?

Treatment for tracheal cancer may include one or more of the following: 

  • Surgical removal of the tumor (resection) 
  • Bronchoscopic treatments
    • Laser therapy to vaporize tumor tissue with a highly focused beam of light 
    • Spray cryotherapy applies liquid nitrogen to the tumor to freeze it so a surgeon can remove it
    • Brachytherapy is a type of internal radiation delivered directly to the tumor site, minimizing damage to nearby healthy tissue
    • Photodynamic therapy uses a strong light to activate a photosensitive chemical that is applied to the tumor, which destroys abnormal tissue and minimizes damage to surrounding tissue
    • Argon beam coagulation is similar to laser therapy and uses electricity and argon gas in combination with other bronchoscopic treatments to kill tumor tissue
    • Rigid coring is a palliative procedure that involves inserting a rigid bronchoscope into the trachea and pushing it through the center of the tumor to open up the airway
  • Radiation therapy
    • External-beam radiation
    • Localized internal radiation therapy (brachytherapy)
  • Chemotherapy

What Is the Life Expectancy for Tracheal Cancer?

Tracheal cancer may be able to be cured if it is diagnosed early, before it has spread to nearby tissues or lymph nodes. About 10% of cases of tracheal cancer have tumors that are able to be completely removed. 

However, tracheal cancer is rare, and the symptoms often resemble other respiratory disorders, so it is not usually found early. Fewer than 15% of patients with tracheal cancer survive more than three years following diagnosis.

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Reviewed on 1/25/2021
References
https://www.mountsinai.org/locations/head-neck-institute/cancer/tracheal

https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions/t/trachea-tumors.html

https://www.cooperhealth.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/Tracheal%20Cancer.pdf

https://www.canceroz.com/2019/02/tracheal-cancer-life-expectancy.html