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Heavy Smokers' Lungs Okay for Lung Transplants: Study

Update Date: Jan 30, 2013 07:47 AM EST

Smoking is linked with cancers of not just the lungs but also that of the liver, bowel, pancreas, bladder and ovary. However, a new study says that under certain situations, smokers' lungs can be used in double-lung transplant surgeries.  

The study included 5,900 people who received double-lung transplant between 2005 and 2011 in the U.S. Smokers had contributed about 13 percent or 766 lungs during this period. 

The study conducted by Sharven Taghavi, M.D., Yoshiya Toyoda, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues from Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, was presented at the 49th Annual Meeting of The Society of Thoracic Surgeons held at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Researchers found that people who received lungs from smokers had similar rates of survival. And, the lung function wasn't bad in these cases. Heavy smokers were defined as people who smoked at least a pack of cigarettes a day for the past 20 years or more.

Study authors say that the study will help provide evidence that lungs from smokers can be used in lung transplants. According to data from Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, there are some 1,639 people waiting for lung transplant. Lung transplants are rare as there aren't enough donors. About half of the people wanting a lung transplant undergo the surgery during a given year, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) says.

"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," explained Dr. Taghavi in a news release.

Currently, transplanting guidelines recommend against using lungs from heavy smokers. However, Taghavi says that these lungs can be accepted under certain circumstances. "For example, a surgeon may choose to transplant lungs from a healthy donor who has good lung function despite heavy smoking, or lungs may be accepted from a less than ideal donor for a very sick patient," Taghavi said.

Yoshiya Toyoda, M.D., said that smoking history of the person whose lungs were procured may not always be accurate and that these lungs must be screened thoroughly. He added that the recipient patients must be informed about the potential risks of using lungs from a donor with a history of smoking.

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