Smoker's Lungs Okay For Transplants

Lung transplants using organs from heavy smokers do not affect survival

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Double lung transplants are performed on individuals who don’t have long to live because of advanced lung disease. But there aren’t enough lungs available to meet the demand. Those numbers could be changing.

A new study has uncovered some confounding findings. Under certain circumstances, the lungs from heavy smokers offer good results in double lung transplants.

Researchers found no difference in lung function or survival among recipients of lungs from heavy smokers and nonsmokers.

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This research was conducted by Sharven Taghavi, MD, Yoshiya Toyoda, MD, PhD, and colleagues from Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. The team examined information about 5,900 double lung transplants performed between 2005 and 2011. The data came from the United Network for Organ Sharing database.

The goal of this study was to see if using lungs from heavy smokers was an acceptable practice. Individuals who smoke at least one pack of cigarettes a day for 20 or more years are considered heavy smokers.

Researchers found that 17 percent of the transplants analyzed were donated by heavy smokers. According to the study, recipients of lungs from heavy smoker donors lived as long as patients who received lungs from nonsmokers.

Recipient lung function was not different among the two groups, nor were deaths due to cancer.

Lung transplantation is an option for treating patients with end-stage lung disease – individuals who are expected to live one to two years, according to National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

At the end of 2012, some 1,600 people were on the waiting list, but only about half of them will actually receive lungs, the NHLBI estimates. Double lung transplants are now performed more often in the US than single-lung transplants.

Current guidelines do not recommend using lungs from individuals who had been heavy smokers.

“Our findings demonstrate that the current criteria for lung transplantation can potentially be revised to include donors with a heavy smoking history. This may help decrease the shortage of donor lungs and decrease waiting list mortality,” Dr. Taghavi said in a statement.

He explained that a surgeon could choose lungs from a heavy smoker who had good lung function. These lungs may also be used for “a very sick patient,” he said.

Do lungs from heavy smokers increase a recipient’s risk of lung cancer? Dr. Taghavi said these lungs have to be closely evaluated. He suggests performing CT (computed tomography) scans to look for tumors and signs of emphysema in addition to visual and other inspections.

Dr. Taghavi added that it’s important that potential recipients understand the risks of receiving lungs from someone who was a heavy smoker.

This research was presented at the 49th Annual Meeting of The Society of Thoracic Surgeons. All research is considered preliminary before publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

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Review Date: 
February 8, 2013
Last Updated:
February 9, 2013