A bronchoscopy is the visual examination of the air passages of the lungs. It is done with a tool called a bronchoscope. This tool is a long, thin tube with a camera at the tip. Special surgical tools can also be passed through the tube. The tools may take tissue samples or mark an area for treatment.
A CT scan is used to create 3-dimentional images to map the airways. The images are downloaded into a computer which helps navigate the bronchoscope into the smaller airways of the lungs.
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A navigational bronchoscopy may be done to help diagnose or treat problems in small airways of the lungs. It is often done after an x-ray, MRI scan, or CT scan shows a suspicious spot. Navigational bronchoscopy may be done to:
This procedure may prevent an open surgery, which has greater risks and longer recovery time. It can help provide early diagnosis of lung cancer.
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
Smoking may increase the risk of complications.
Talk to your doctor about your current medications. You may be asked to stop taking some medications up to 1 week before the procedure.
Leading up to your procedure:
Local anesthetic will be given to numb the throat. It will also help to prevent coughing and gagging. You may also be given medication to help you relax.
Sometimes, a bronchoscopy is done under general anesthesia. In this case, you will be asleep.
A CT scan will be done. Images from the scan will be loaded into a special computer. The computer program will highlight were the problem areas are located. Your doctor will use this information to guide the scope.
You will be asked to lie on a special table.
The bronchoscope tube will be inserted through the mouth. It will then be passed down the throat and into the lungs. Special tools will be passed through the tube. One tool will have an electromagnetic sensor. This sensor will show the doctor exactly where it is in the lungs. The sensor and the CT scans will be used to reach the appropriate area in the lungs.
A small sample of tissue may be taken from the area. The sample will be removed through the scope. Small metal markers may also be placed around the area. These markers will help with future treatment.
The tools and scope will be removed once the doctor is done.
Tissue samples will be sent to a lab. The tissue will be examined for cancer or infections.
Less than 1 hour
Anesthesia prevents pain during the procedure. You may have some soreness in your throat and hoarseness for a few days after the procedure. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
A chest x-ray may be taken before you go home.
You will feel sleepy after the procedure. Do not drive until your doctor says it is safe to do so.
When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
After arriving home, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Lung Association
American Thoracic Society
Edell E, Krier-Morrow D. Navigational bronchoscopy. Chest. 2010;137(2):450-454.
Electromagnetic navigational bronchoscopy. Alta Bates Summit Medical Center website. Available at: http://www.altabatessummit.org/technology/enb.html. Accessed August 29, 2017.
Leong S, Ju H, et al. Electromagnetic navigation bronchoscopy: A descriptive analysis. J Thorac Dis. 2012;4(2):173-185.
Navigational bronchoscopy. Wellmont Health Systems website. Available at: http://www.wellmont.org/Our-Services/Pulmonology/Navigational-Bronchoscopy. Accessed August 29, 2017.
Navigational bronchoscopy. University of Louisville Medical Center website. Available at: https://uoflhospital.org/services/lung-care. Accessed August 29, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP