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What is a Bronchopleural Fistula

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Updated April 30, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Definition:

A bronchopleural fistula is an abnormal passageway that develops between the large airways in the lungs (bronchial tree) and the membranes that line the lungs (pleura). The condition is a serious complication of lung cancer surgery. Bronchopleural fistulas may also occur following severe lung infections, a pneumothorax, chemotherapy or radiation therapy for lung cancer, or with tuberculosis.

If a bronchopleural fistula develops, air that is breathed in may travel through this passageway into the space between the layers that line the lungs.

With lung cancer surgery where a portion of a lung or a whole lung are removed, this complication occurs in up to 28% of people. It is more likely to occur with extensive surgeries such as pneumonectomy, and less common with less invasive surgeries like a lobectomy or a wedge resection.

Treatment may include surgery to close the fistula, or a bronchoscopy, during which a chemical is inserted into the fistula. The chemical creates inflammation in the fistula that leads to scarring and closure of the passageway, in essence "gluing" the abnormal passage shut.

Source:

Lois, M. and M. Nagen. Bronchopleural Fistulas. An Overview of the Problem With Special Focus on Endoscopic Management. Chest. 2005. 128(6):3955-3965.

Also Known As: bronchopleural air leak, BPF
Examples:
Sam developed a bronchopleural fistula after his pneumonectomy for lung cancer, and needed to remain in the hospital longer than he had anticipated.

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