What Is Bronchoscopy?

Bronchoscopy (pronounced “brahn KAH skoh pee”) is a medical procedure that allows a doctor to see inside a person’s airways. The airways are called the bronchial tubes or bronchi. In this procedure, the doctor inserts a small tube called a bronchoscope through the nose or mouth. The tip of this tube is lighted, so the doctor can see inside the airways.

In addition to the viewing lens, most bronchoscopes have a thin channel inside. That channel can carry water, anesthetic, or very small tools into the airways. It can also be used to obtain small bits of tissue, so they can be tested for cancer or other diseases.

There are two kinds of bronchoscopes – flexible and rigid. Doctors usually use the flexible bronchoscope for most purposes.

Flexible bronchoscopes are very thin tubes that either use fiberoptics or a tiny camera.

  • Fiberoptics carry an image through a glassy wire, up to a viewing lens that the doctor looks through.
  • A video bronchoscope replaces the fiberoptics with a tiny camera at the tip. The image travels through a wire to a monitor, where the doctor can see it.

Rigid bronchoscopes are small metal tubes with a light at the tip. They are used to treat certain problems in the airways. For example, a doctor might use a rigid bronchoscope to remove a foreign object too big to be removed with a flexible bronchoscope. Doctors also use them to install a small firm tube called a stent that can keep the airways open.

What Can Bronchoscopy Do?

The bronchoscope lets doctors see and fix a number of problems in the airways. They can:

  • Find obstructions, tumors, and foreign objects.
  • Get tissue samples from the bronchial tubes or lungs to be tested for cancer or other diseases.
  • Diagnose lung cancer, tuberculosis, infection, and other airway diseases.
  • Find the source of bleeding in someone who has been coughing up blood.
  • Remove extra mucus, foreign objects, or anything else blocking the airways.
  • Find out how advanced someone’s lung cancer is and monitor the cancer during treatment.

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