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What Are the Pros and Cons of a Lung Transplant for Cystic Fibrosis?

By Éibhir Mulqueen
Updated Feb 03, 2024
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As medical science improves, the benefits of a lung transplant for cystic fibrosis, which amounts to a fresh start with a new set of breathing organs, are considered by many people to outweigh the drawbacks of having deeply invasive surgery. The pros of a lung transplant are that the most glaring effects of the disease are removed, with no more lung infections. The major con of a lung transplant for cystic fibrosis is that such a major surgery might prove fatal. Other cons of a lung transplant for cystic fibrosis are the risk of organ rejection and the fact that the patient will still need to take medication for the condition and to prevent organ rejection.

Surgery for cystic fibrosis patients usually involves the replacement of both lungs, but when necessary, a single donated lung can be split in two to provide double the function in the patient. Cystic fibrosis is a progressive disease that results from the mutation of the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene. The resultant lack of an essential protein for sweat, mucus and digestive juices leads to scarring, cyst formation, digestion problems and frequent chest infections. Ultimately, it can lead to respiratory failure, meaning the option of a lung transplant is the only one available if a patient is about to face total lung failure and die prematurely. The first successful lung transplant was carried out in 1983 in Toronto, and the first double-lung transplant for cystic fibrosis was carried out in that city in 1988.

The risk of a patient dying during a lung transplant surgery has been decreasing, and the operation has become relatively commonplace. Research shows that the vast majority of lung transplant patients survive beyond one year. Apart from survival, other pros of such an operation are that cystic fibrosis patients will most likely have a new lease of life and can build up to participating in an advanced level of physical activity again.

Internationally, the rate of lung organ donation remains low with the result that it is usually people in dire need of a transplant who are put to the top of waiting lists. They then have to face the uncertain outcome having a suitable organ reach them in time. Lungs, like hearts, do not keep after they have been retrieved from the donor, so they must be transplanted within a few hours. Patients on waiting lists must be contactable at all times and stay close to the operating theater. They are often experiencing chronic respiratory failure by the time they are on a lung transplant waiting list, however, so they might already be in a hospital on a mechanical respirator.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Wisedly33 — On Apr 28, 2014

@Scrbblchick -- That is sad. I'm sorry about your friend. She sounds like she was a great person.

Three of my cousins died from cystic fibrosis before I was born. Two were under 2 years of age and the other one was about six. That was in the late sixties, before they could do much of anything for the children. The genes must have come in from the opposite side of the family, because no other children have been born with it, thank goodness.

Even though there are so many more treatments now, CF is still almost always terminal. I hope transplant procedures improve in the future, so rejection is not such a risk.

By Scrbblchick — On Apr 27, 2014

A dear friend of mine had a double lung transplant for cystic fibrosis and she did wonderfully well for several years. Then, for some reason, she went into chronic rejection and nothing the doctors did could reverse it.

Sadly, she passed away when she was 27. I miss her. She was a beautiful soul.

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