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Bronchial Adenoma

Bronchial Adenoma Overview

The term bronchial adenoma describes a diverse group of tumors arising from mucous glands and ducts of the trachea (windpipe) or bronchi (large airways of the lung). This term describes all of the following types of tumors: neuroendocrine tumors (carcinoids), adenoid cystic carcinomas (cylindromas), mucoepidermoid carcinomas, mucous gland adenomas, and other mixed seromucinous tumors arising from mucous glands and ducts of the windpipe and large airways. 

These tumors are of widely variable malignant (cancerous) potential, although most of them are low-grade malignancies, growing and spreading much more slowly than true lung cancer.

Bronchial Adenoma Causes

The cause of bronchial adenoma is not known.

Bronchial Adenoma Symptoms

Bronchial adenoma may remain undiagnosed for years because of the small size of the tumor and the slow growth pattern. This condition masquerades as bronchial asthma, chronic bronchitis, or bronchiectasis (localized irreversible expansion of part of the bronchial tree resulting in airflow obstruction and impaired clearance of secretions).  

Symptoms of bronchial adenoma depend on whether the tumor is located centrally or peripherally in the airways. Persons with central lesions have symptoms of obstruction and bleeding, which may include the following: 

  • Dyspnea (difficulty breathing) is caused by partial obstruction of the windpipe or large bronchi.
  • Stridor (abnormal sound produced by turbulent flow of air through a narrowed part of the larger airways) can be present when the adenoma is in the windpipe or large bronchi.
  • Wheezing (high-pitched whistling sound produced by the flow of air through narrowed smaller airways) is heard if the obstructed air passages are further out in the large bronchi.
  • Cough, fever, and sputum production result from obstruction of the bronchi, leading to collapse, infection, and destruction of the lung tissue on the other side of the obstruction.
  • Coughing up blood results from ulceration of the lining of the airway overlying the tumor and is fairly common in bronchial adenoma. Coughing up blood is a danger sign and nearly always indicative of a serious disease, whether bronchial adenoma or another lung condition.

Persons with peripheral lesions are more commonly asymptomatic (that is, they do not have any symptoms). The peripheral lesions most often appear as solitary pulmonary nodules on chest x-ray films. Because these individuals are asymptomatic, the findings are typically found on chest x-ray films taken for other reasons.

When to Seek Medical Care

Although bronchial adenoma may remain undiagnosed for years because of the small tumor size and the slow growth pattern, people should be aware of its symptoms, particularly breathing difficulties and obstruction. Because coughing up blood is a danger sign and nearly always indicative of a serious disease, immediate medical attention is warranted in these cases.

Exams and Tests

  • Chest X-ray films may demonstrate a nodule (less than 3 cm in diameter) or a larger mass of tumor. Oblique-view chest x-ray films may improve the ability to detect central lesions on chest x-ray films.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan of the chest allows a better assessment of the tumor. The doctor can tell how big the tumor is, exactly where it is located in the lung, and whether it looks like it has spread to the lymph nodes.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is generally used when CT scan findings are unclear.

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