The trachea (windpipe) is the airway that leads from your larynx (voice box) to your bronchi, which lead to your lungs. Although tumors developing in the trachea (primary tracheal tumors) and the bronchi are extremely rare, Mount Sinai has experience in surgically treating and removing these tumors.
Some tracheal and bronchial tumors occur as the result of cancer spreading (metastasizing) to the trachea or bronchi. This is called metastatic disease. Although malignant (cancerous) tracheal tumors are more common in adults, they are often benign when found in children.
The most common types of malignant tracheal and bronchial tumors are:
- Squamous cell carcinoma. This is the most common type of tracheal tumor. It is a fast-growing cancer that usually arises in the lower portion of the trachea. Squamous cell carcinoma often penetrates the mucosal lining of the airway as it grows. This can cause ulceration and bleeding in the trachea. Squamous cell carcinoma is more common in men than in women. Smoking is the main risk factor for this type of cancer.
- Adenoid cystic carcinoma. Unlike squamous cell carcinoma, adenoid cystic carcinoma is less likely to penetrate the mucosal lining of the trachea. However, these slow-growing tumors eventually close off the airway as they progress. Adenoid cystic carcinomas are found in equal numbers among men and women between the ages of 40 and 60. Smoking is not a risk factor for this type of cancer.
- Carcinoid tumors. These tumors arise from neuroendocrine cells, which produce hormones such as serotonin. Although carcinoid tumors are more commonly found in the gastrointestinal system, a few occur in the bronchi.
Common benign tumors of the trachea include:
- Chondromas. The most common benign tracheal tumor, these firm nodules are located in the cartilage rings of the trachea. Chondromas occur more frequently in the larynx (voice box).
- Hemangiomas. These growths consist of an abnormal buildup of capillaries in the trachea.
- Papillomas. These cauliflower-like tumors are thought to be caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). Papillomatosis refers to multiple papilloma tumors. Papillomas are the most common benign tracheal tumor in children.