Lung Transplants for Cancer Patients

Sometimes initial responses to lung cancer do not promote recovery fast enough or fully enough. Sometimes cancer is caught in too late of a stage for less invasive measures to be effective. Whatever the reason, lung transplants may be necessary for some. The more informed you are about your disease and treatment options, the more prepared you will be if serious courses of action become necessary.

Do You Need a Lung Transplant?

It’s important for your team of physicians to assess your candidacy for transplant early on after your cancer is detected. Cancer can be an unpredictable disease, and if the necessary preparations haven’t been made, an emergency transplant may be extremely difficult.

Are You Healthy Enough for a Lung Transplant?

It may sound counterintuitive at first, because a serious degree of illness must be present in order for transplants to be considered.

However, if your cancer progresses past a certain point, the risks of surgery may outweigh the possible benefits, and your life expectancy or chances of survival may be compromised more with a transplant.

There are also physiological and psychological factors to consider—good candidates must not be addicted to anything or in an adverse mental state.

Are You Ill Enough for a Lung Transplant?

Those evaluating your case will ensure that all the treatment options possible for your condition have been tried, since simply switching out a medicine or therapy can make all the difference.

If there is a chance that you can function fully with your own lungs, transplant center workers will ensure that you are given that chance. No one should undergo a transplant that doesn’t absolutely need it.

Types of Lung Transplant

1)      Single Lung Transplant

This is done when you are able to retain one mostly healthy lung, and only need to replace the other. This type of transplant typically returns 50-90% of healthy lung function to the patient.

2)      Double Lung Transplant

When both lungs are in poor shape, they may both be removed and replaced with healthier lungs. This tends to restore 60-90% of normal lung function.

There is a longer wait time for these transplants because typically both lungs come from the same donor, and often at least one of a donor’s lungs is damaged.

3)      Heart-Lung Transplant

Though rare, sometimes a patient needs two new lungs and a new heart. There is a wait time generally twice as long as double lung transplants for these, because all three organs come from the same deceased donor, and finding a donor with all of these organs in working condition is quite difficult.

4)      Living Donor Lobar Transplant

If a patient isn’t healthy enough for a full lung transplant, sometimes they’ll receive two lobes from two different patients to replace their own bad lungs.

Getting a Transplant

When a possible donor match is made, the hospital will call you to come in. There they will perform final evaluations to ensure the match is viable. If so, you’ll start medications to prevent your body from rejecting its new lung.

Under anesthesia in surgery, you’ll receive a new lung through an incision between your ribs. You’ll stay in the hospital for however long your medical team deems necessary, and will be on continued courses of strong medicine to ensure the lung does not reject.

You will have to take these drugs for the life of your transplant—rejection is much more common in lung transplants than for other organs.

Recovery and Life Afterward

Don’t miss any doctor’s appointments. Do everything they tell you and more to stay healthy—but consult your doctor before making changes to diet, medicines, supplements or exercise. There are many possible complications post-transplant, and only your medical team can properly evaluate your health.