Is this cough cancer, doc? No: it's a case of Playmobil on the lung

Chap inhaled tiny toy traffic cone 40 years ago and he's been spluttering ever since


The British Medical Journal has revealed a mistaken diagnosis of cancer was caused by Playmobil.

A quartet of medico-boffins from the Departments of Respiratory Medicine at Wythenshawe and Royal Preston Hospital explain this malaise in a British Medical Journal case note titled “An airway traffic jam: a plastic traffic cone masquerading as bronchial carcinoma”.

The facts of the case are simple: a 47-year old from Preston felt poorly for a year, coughed up some very nasty stuff and so visited a respiratory clinic.

X-rays showed something nasty on his lungs and as the chap had recently had pneumonia and was a smoker a diagnosis of cancer followed.

Medicos therefore decided to take a look at that nasty something and found a Playmobil traffic cone in the midst of the mess.

“Tracheobronchial foreign body (TFB) aspiration is a common occurrence in children compared with adults,” the case note says. “Long-standing cases of TFB aspiration during childhood presenting in an adult have rarely been reported. We report the unique case of an endobronchial Playmobil traffic cone that went undetected for 40 years and presented as a suspected bronchogenic carcinoma. This was subsequently removed successfully with flexible bronchoscopy. To our knowledge this is the first case of a TFB that was overlooked this length of time.”

Once the traffic cone was removed, the patient later admitted to being an inveterate Playmobil-chewer as a child. He also recalled being given the Playmobil set that included the traffic cone, probably in 1977 when he was just seven years old.

The case note's authors speculate that his tender age at the time of the inhalation meant his lungs adapted to the cone's presence. Time may have caught up with the patient, but the cone was retrieved whole and still recognisably orange.

The patient's cough has also all-but-vanished since the cone was removed. ®

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