Airway/Tracheal Program

The Airway/Tracheal Program in the Division of Thoracic Surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital provides specialized care for a wide range of airway and tracheal conditions.

  • Phone: 617-726-6826

The Airway/Tracheal Surgery Program at Massachusetts General Hospital provides specialized treatments for both common and rare disorders of the trachea, offering patients state-of-the-art evaluation, diagnosis and care.

Our team of highly skilled thoracic surgeons use a variety of techniques, including tracheal reconstruction, to preserve the airway (trachea and bronchi), and voice. We work closely with specialists in the Mass General Center for Laryngeal Surgery and Voice Rehabilitation and participate in the Mass General Cancer Center’s Thoracic Oncology Clinic.

Patients may be referred to us by physicians treating an underlying condition that has created the airway/tracheal issue, such as cancer or an airway obstruction caused by benign disease. We offer surgical options for patients with airway obstructions caused by benign disease or cancer.

Conditions We Treat

Among the tracheal disorders we treat are various forms of stenosis (abnormal narrowing of the airway), including:

  • Congenital tracheal stenosis (birth-related)
  • Idiopathic subglottic stenosis (cause unknown)
  • Post-intubation tracheal stenosis (injury resulting from breathing tube placement in the throat)
  • Tracheal tumors
  • Tumors of the carina (lower trachea and pathway to the lungs)
  • Tracheoesophageal fistulas (communication between airway and esophagus)

Patient Experience

New patients undergo a comprehensive evaluation, including a detailed medical history and physical examination. Tests include simple X-rays taken either at Mass General or at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.

We carefully review the recommended course of treatment with each patient. If the patient elects to undergo the procedure, we explain each step, using diagrams and illustrations. In the operating room, while the patient is under general anesthesia, we examine the airway (trachea and bronchi) using a bronchoscope, a thin, tube-like imaging instrument.

After surgery, the surgeon reviews the timeline for recovery and course of medication with the patient and family. If the surgery is conducted because of an underlying condition (e.g. cancer), we confer with the patient's physician to establish an ongoing plan of care.

Evolutionary Research Approach

A research and teaching facility, we are dedicated to advancing knowledge of tracheobronchial disease and producing the next generation of thoracic surgeons skilled at managing airway conditions. Many procedures used in treating tracheal disorders carry the imprint of Mass General surgeon Hermes Grillo, MD, known as "the father of airway surgery." In the 1960s, Dr. Grillo invented novel techniques of tracheal reconstruction that allowed patients with previously untreatable conditions to undergo surgery. Today, we use Mass General's talent and technology to continually refine our techniques.

Recent innovative efforts include:

  • Initiatives to isolate the causes of idiopathic subglottal stenosis, a rare inflammatory disorder with unknown cause
  • Creation of a tracheal surgery database to study outcomes and prognosis of patients with airway problems with the goal of improving patient outcomes
  • Research into possible tracheal substitutes
  • Regenerative medicine approach to tracheal substitute

Division of Thoracic Surgery

55 Fruit Street
Blake 1570
Boston, MA 02114

Phone: 617-726-6826

Next Steps:

  • Phone: 617-726-6826