Yes, you read correctly. Lungs from pack-a-day smokers can be donated safely for use in adult lung transplants. How can this be possible?
According to researchers at Temple University, lungs from carefully selected donors who smoked a pack per day for more than 20 years were used in transplants without increasing the risk of death from lung cancer.
The team of cardiothoracic surgeons leading this study examined data from the United Network for Organ Sharing on 5,900 double-lung transplant recipients between 2005 and 2011. Of these patients, 13 percent received lungs from those donors who had a history of heavy smoking.
"Our findings demonstrate that the current criteria for lung transplantation can potentially be revised to include donors with a heavy smoking history," said Dr. Sharven Taghavi, from Temple University hospital. "This may help decrease the shortage of donor lungs and decrease waiting list mortality."
Recipients who received lungs from donors who smoked had short- and medium-term survival rates that were similar to those who received lungs from people who didn't smoke. Also, the lung function of the transplant recipients was not any worse when donated from smokers.
Researchers stress that it is important that the lungs from heavy smokers be examined thoroughly to ensure that they are free of cancer and other types of diseases.
While careful examination is performed on the donor lungs, potential recipients must be made aware of the increased risk of receiving lungs from a heavy smoker and the possibility of developing lung cancer. For some, it may be worth the risk, considering that in 2012, more than 1,600 people were on the waiting list in hopes of receiving a lung transplant, but only 50 percent will actually receive one.
How would you feel if you or a family member were to receive a lung transplant from a former smoker? Would the risk of developing lung cancer or other diseases prevent you from accepting the transplant?