Lung Transplantation Procedure

By Marty Polovich

(Transplant-Lung, Lung Transplant, Lung Graft)

Procedure overview

What is a lung transplant?

A lung transplant is a surgical procedure performed to remove one or both diseased lungs from a patient and replace it with a healthy one from another person. The majority of lungs that are transplanted come from deceased organ donors. This type of transplant is called a cadaveric transplant. Healthy, non-smoking adults who make a good match may be able to donate a part (a lobe) of one of their lungs. This type of transplant is called a living transplant. Individuals who donate a part of a lung can live healthy lives with the remaining lung tissue.

Various types of lung transplant procedures include single lung (transplantation of one lung); double lung, bilateral sequential, or bilateral single (transplantation of two lungs); and heart-lung transplants (transplantation of both lungs and the heart taken from a single donor). The type of procedure performed depends on the condition of the recipient.

Anatomy of the lungs

The respiratory system is made up of the organs involved in the interchanges of gases, and consists of the:

  • Nose

  • Pharynx

  • Larynx

  • Trachea

  • Bronchi

  • Lungs

The upper respiratory tract includes the:

  • Nose

  • Nasal cavity

  • Ethmoidal air cells

  • Frontal sinuses

  • Maxillary sinus

  • Larynx

  • Trachea

The lower respiratory tract includes the lungs, bronchi, and alveoli.

What are the functions of the lungs?

The lungs take in oxygen, which cells need to live and carry out their normal functions. The lungs also get rid of carbon dioxide, a waste product of the body's cells.

The lungs are a pair of cone-shaped organs made up of spongy, pinkish-gray tissue. They take up most of the space in the chest, or the thorax (the part of the body between the base of the neck and diaphragm).

The lungs are enveloped in a membrane called the pleura.

The lungs are separated from each other by the mediastinum, an area that contains the following:

  • The heart and its large vessels

  • Trachea (windpipe)

  • Esophagus

  • Thymus

  • Lymph nodes

The right lung has three sections, called lobes. The left lung has two lobes. When you breathe, the air enters the body through the nose or the mouth. It then travels down the throat through the larynx (voice box) and trachea (windpipe) and goes into the lungs through tubes called main-stem bronchi.

One main-stem bronchus leads to the right lung and one to the left lung. In the lungs, the main-stem bronchi divide into smaller bronchi and then into even smaller tubes called bronchioles. Bronchioles end in tiny air sacs called alveoli.

Reasons for the procedure

A lung transplant may be recommended for persons who have serious lung dysfunction that cannot be improved with maximal medical therapy and whose life expectancy without a transplant is 12 to 24 months. Lung transplants may be performed on all ages from newborn to adult, generally up to age 65.

A lung transplant may be performed for the following conditions:

  • Severe cystic fibrosis (CF) - an inherited disease characterized by an abnormality in the glands that produce sweat and mucus. It is chronic, progressive, and is usually fatal.

  • Bronchopulmonary dysplasia or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) - a term that refers to a group of lung diseases that can interfere with normal breathing

  • Pulmonary hypertension - increased pressure in the arteries of the lungs

  • Heart disease or heart defects affecting the lungs (may require a heart-lung transplant)

  • Pulmonary fibrosis (scarring of the lungs)

  • Some hereditary conditions affecting the lungs

  • Other diseases causing severe lung damage, such as sarcoidosis, histiocytosis, or lymphangioleiomyomatosis

However, not all cases of these conditions require lung transplantation. A lung transplant is not recommended as a treatment for lung cancer.

There may be other reasons for your physician to recommend a lung transplant.

Risks of the procedure

As with any surgery, complications may occur. Some complications from lung transplantation may include, but are not limited to, the following:



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