Tube to keep the airway open (airway stent)
A stent is a hollow tube that may be placed in your airway. It opens the narrowed area and helps you breathe.
Your doctor puts the stent in place using a procedure called a bronchoscopy. They put a narrow, flexible tube called a bronchoscope down your windpipe (trachea) and into your airways.
You normally have this as an outpatient or day case procedure in the endoscopy unit.
When do you have an airway stent for lung cancer?
If your airway is partly blocked by a lung cancer it can make it hard to breathe. Your doctor might suggest that you have a tube called a stent put into the airway to keep it open. This can help you to breathe more easily.
Before having an airway stent
Your doctor or specialist nurse explains what happens and how they do the treatment. They ask you to sign a consent form saying that you agree to have the procedure. You can ask them any questions that you have. Tell them about any medicines you are taking.
Take your medicines as normal unless your doctor tells you otherwise. You might need to stop any blood thinning medicines before your treatment but your doctor will let you know.
You have the procedure under sedation or general anaesthesia. Sedation will make you relaxed and sleepy. It is not the same as a general anaesthetic, but you shouldn’t eat or drink anything from midnight of the night before the procedure. Only drink clear fluids up to 4 hours before your visit to the hospital.
Some hospitals allow you to have just water for up to 2 hours before surgery and sips of water until surgery.
Having an airway stent
In the endoscopy department, a nurse will ask you to change into a gown. Then they show you into the treatment room.
Once you are lying on the couch, an anaesthetist gives you a sedative through a small tube put into a vein in your hand. This means you will be sleepy and relaxed and won’t feel anything during the procedure.
Your doctor then sprays a local anaesthetic onto the back of your throat. They put a long, thin, flexible tube called a bronchoscope down your throat and into the airway.
When the bronchoscope tube is in the right place, the doctor pushes the stent down the bronchoscope. As the stent comes out of the end of the tube, it opens up and pushes the walls of the airway open.
After having an airway stent
After your procedure, you can eat and drink once the sedative has worn off. You might feel a bit confused and drowsy, but you won’t remember your treatment.
You should be able to breathe more easily than before having the airway stent. You can get changed into your own clothes once you feel less sleepy.
You will spend a few hours on the hospital ward. Your nurses will make sure you have fully recovered. You should be able to go home the same day but take things easy for a day or so afterwards.
You shouldn’t drive until the day after the test because of the sedative. Someone should collect you from the hospital and ensure you get home safely.
Some people stay overnight to help them completely recover from the procedure.
A sore throat and a hoarse voice
You might have a sore throat and a hoarse voice for a couple of days after the test because of the bronchoscopy tube.
This almost always settles once the local anaesthetic has worked.
Possible risks after having an airway stent
Having an airway stent is a very safe procedure but your nurse will tell you who to contact if you have any problems afterwards.
The possible risks include:
You might see a small amount of blood in your spit after the procedure. Let your doctor or nurse know if this doesn’t go away or gets worse.
See your GP straight away if your phlegm (sputum) changes colour, you start feeling more breathless or you have a temperature.
Needing extra oxygen
You might need oxygen through a mask for a short time. It is not usually more than an hour after your bronchoscopy, but this can vary. If you normally have oxygen at home you might need to have more than usual for a little while.
A collapsed lung (pneumothorax)
Air can collect in the space around the lung and make it collapse, but this is rare. Contact a doctor if you become short of breath or have chest pain. If this happens, usually the team caring for you will keep an eye on you, and it usually goes on its own. Rarely, your doctor might need to put a tube into the lung to remove the air.
The stent moving and blocking the airway
The stent moving is very rare. Contact your doctor or nurse straight away if you suddenly feel very breathless or cough up the stent.