Man's lung lump turns out to be plastic toy

Denny et al./BMJ Case Reports

Denny et al./BMJ Case Reports

This toy cone from a child's play set was removed from a man's airways; pictured with a 2.5mL syringe to illustrate size.

A 47-year-old man who doctors thought had lung cancer was given the good news that the mass in his right lung wasn't a tumour at all, but a toy traffic cone he inhaled as a child.

The British postal worker, a former smoker, had already been treated for pneumonia, but now doctors suspected it might be much worse - an X-ray had revealed a mysterious mass in one of his lungs, and it was suspected to be a possible tumour.

It was eventually absorbed into the lung lining, where it remained undetected until a year ago, when the man, a long-term smoker, began coughing and spitting up yellow mucus.

As an attempt to give a more accurate diagnosis, surgeons performed a bronchoscopy and found a Playmobil traffic cone that the patient inhaled by accident in 1977.

Four months after the procedure, they reported that the man's cough had "almost entirely settled". On his seventh birthday, back in 1974, he received a Playmobil set, and recalled swallowing the toy cone shortly afterward.

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According to the BMJ report, the airway of the then 7 year-old could have remodeled to adapt to the presence of the toy, explaining why the patient had no side effect for decades.

In the journal, doctors wrote: "He finally found his long lost traffic cone in the very last place he would look".

"He may have had symptoms as a child at the time it was aspirated - cough, chest pain, etc. - but these were put down to a transient illness".

"Tracheobronchial foreign body (TFB) aspiration is a common occurrence in children compared with adults", the case note says.

The patient had been referred to a respiratory clinic after showing symptoms of coughing and producing mucus following treatment for pneumonia. Baxter reported that everyone in the room "just fell about laughing" after the realization, but the incident was so unique that it was recorded in a medical journal.

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