Lung transplant is an option for a few people who have severe lung problems that are caused by cystic fibrosis. The procedure removes the diseased lungs and replaces them with healthy lungs from a recently deceased donor.
Sometimes a procedure called a living-donor lobar lung transplant is performed while a person is waiting for a full lung transplant. In this procedure, the lower section (lobe) of one lung in each of two living donors (who may be related or unrelated to the person who has cystic fibrosis) is transplanted into the person who has cystic fibrosis. Because this complicated transplant involves two living donors, it is performed less often than other kinds of lung transplants.
What To Expect
After lung transplant surgery, you will be put on a ventilator, which is a machine that temporarily takes over the breathing process. If there are no complications, you will use the ventilator for 1 to 2 days.
You will likely need to stay in the hospital for 2 to 3 weeks after the transplant.
You'll need to take antibiotics and medicines to suppress your immune system to raise the chances that your body will accept the new lungs.
Why It Is Done
Some people who have severe lung damage that was caused by cystic fibrosis may get a lung transplant. Experts aren't sure if a lung transplant helps a child with cystic fibrosis live longer.footnote 1 People who have mild or moderate disease do not usually get a transplant, because the risks are greater than the benefits.
How Well It Works
Several tests can help your doctor and you see how well a lung transplant or a living-donor lobar lung transplant might work. These tests include lung function tests, arterial blood gas tests, and exercise capacity.
- About 6 out of 10 people who receive a lung transplant survive at least 5 years after the procedure.footnote 2
- People with cystic fibrosis have the same survival rate after a lung transplant as people who have lung transplants for other health problems.
The main risks of lung transplant are problems during the surgery and rejection of the donated organs. Infection and rejection of transplanted organs have similar symptoms, including fever, tiredness, and trouble breathing.
After a lung transplant, preventive antibiotic therapy starts right away. You will also take immunosuppressant medicines, usually for the rest of your life. Although immunosuppressant medicines raise the chances that your body will accept the new lungs, they also make it harder for your body to fight off infection.
What To Think About
- Lung transplant surgery does not prevent or improve any problems that cystic fibrosis may be causing in other parts of your body.
- Having a lung transplant is still a limited option in the United States and is usually available only in certain major medical centers. You may have to travel or move to another city to have the operation.
- Not everyone is a good candidate for an organ transplant. Your doctor or a transplant center will do tests to see if you are. To learn more, see the topic Organ Transplant.
- If your tests show you are a good candidate, you are put on a waiting list. You may have to wait days, months, or years for a transplant. The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) regularly updates its guidelines for transplant selection. More information can be found at www.unos.org.
- Liou TG, et al. (2007). Lung transplantation and survival in children with cystic fibrosis. New England Journal of Medicine, 357(21): 2143–2152. [Erratum in New England Journal of Medicine, 359(e6).]
- Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (2017). Kaplan-Meier patient survival rates for transplants performed, 2008-2015. Based on OPTN data as of April 21, 2017. Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. https://optn.transplant.hrsa.gov/data/view-data-reports/national-data/. Accessed April 26, 2017.
Current as of: August 21, 2019