Bronchoscopy is a procedure a doctor uses to look inside the lungs. This is done with a bronchoscope, a thin, flexible tube with a light and a lens or small video camera on the end. The tube is put in through your nose or mouth, down your throat, into your trachea (windpipe), and into the airways (bronchi and bronchioles) of your lungs.
There are a few reasons you might need a bronchoscopy:
To find out why you are having lung problems – This test can be used to look for the causes of problems in the airways of the lungs (such as trouble breathing or coughing up blood).
You have a suspicious area that might be cancer – Bronchoscopy can be used to look at an abnormal area seen on an imaging test (such as a chest x-ray or CT scan).
Any abnormal areas in the airways that are seen with the bronchoscope can be biopsied to find out if they are cancer. This is done by passing long, thin instruments down the bronchoscope, such as small forceps (tweezers), hollow needles, or brushes to collect the samples. The doctor can also sample cells from the lining of the airways by passing sterile saltwater down the bronchoscope to rinse the airways, and then suctioning up the fluid. (This is known as a bronchial washing.) The biopsy samples are then looked at in the lab.
To look at lymph nodes near your lungs – A bronchoscopy can be done as part of endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS) to look at the lymph nodes and other structures in the area between the lungs. If suspicious areas such as enlarged lymph nodes are seen, a hollow needle can be passed through the bronchoscope and guided into these areas to obtain a biopsy. This is known as transbronchial needle aspiration or TBNA.
To treat certain lung problems – Bronchoscopy can be used to treat blocked airways or some other types of problems in the lung. For example, a small laser or electrocautery put on the end of a bronchoscope can be used to burn away part of a tumour that is blocking an airway. Or a bronchoscope can be used to place a rigid tube called a stent into an airway to help keep it open.