There’s some good news for smokers – sort of: Your lungs are now considered worthy of donation.
Surprising, right? Not that we advocate continuing to light up, given the proven health risks of cancer and increased risk for heart disease and obesity.
A new study, conducted by the Harefield Hospital in the U.K. and published in the Annals of Thoracic Surgery, reveals that transplanting the lungs of heavy smokers does not have an impact on patient outcomes after surgery.
Researchers looked at data from 237 patients – those who underwent lung transplantation at Harefield Hospital between 2007 and 2012. Both patients and donors were carefully assessed before and after their transplantations. The former were split into three groups: Those who were transplanted with lungs from people who smoked less than one pack of cigarettes every day for 20 years; those who were transplanted with lungs from people who smoked more than one pack per day for 20 years; and those who were transplanted with lungs from non-smoking donors. Excluded were patients who were transplanted with lungs from donors with an unknown smoking history.
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Their analysis revealed that patients transplanted with lungs from donors who smoked or were heavy smokers did not show severe, negative outcomes following their surgery, compared to those transplanted with lungs from donors who did not smoke. In fact, survival rates were exactly the same over one- and three-year periods. Even double-lung transplants were safely performed with lungs from donors with a history of heavy smoking.
“Based on our results, history and extent of donor smoking do not significantly affect early and mid-term patient outcomes following lung transplantation,” lead researcher Dr. Sabashnikov told the Annals of Thoracic Surgery.
“While this does not eliminate the need for long-term follow-up, donor lungs from heavy smokers should be considered for patients needing lung transplantation as they may provide a valuable avenue for expanding donor organ availability.”
Smoking And Lung Transplants
Using the lungs from heavy smokers could be a way of contending with a donor shortage. Generally, transplantations are cost-effective and largely successful. But according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, an estimated 1,763 lungs were donated in the U.S. in 2013. That’s low given the number of lung transplants that are needed for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cystic fibrosis, in particular. That leaves thousands holding on for suitable transplants – many of whom will die during that same waiting period.
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Nonetheless, the Harefield Hospital’s findings are expected to challenge the policy of refusing lungs from heavy-smoking donors, increasing the amount of selection and reducing wait lists altogether.
That should allow patients to breathe a little easier.