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How Can a Lung Transplant Affect Cystic Fibrosis Life Expectancy?

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that affects the lungs, pancreas, and other vital organs. The life expectancy of someone with CF is 40 years.1

The disease impacts many parts of the body and does the most harm to the lungs. People with CF find it difficult to breathe. They are more likely to develop infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Over time, the lungs become more damaged. This may lead to the need for a lung transplant.2

Are lung transplants common?

When someone has a lung transplant, surgeons replace their sick lung with a healthy lung. The healthy lung comes from a deceased organ donor.

Lung transplants for people with CF became a standard procedure in the 1990s. Patients with other lung diseases besides CF receive lung transplants, too. Doctors performed close to 3,000 lung transplants in the United States in 2018.3,4

Lung transplant process

There are several steps involved in receiving a lung transplant:2,5

  • Assessing your need: Doctors will conduct several tests to see if you are a good candidate for a transplant. While you have to be sick to receive a transplant, you cannot be too sick to recover from the surgery.
  • Waiting list: If you need a lung transplant, you will go on the waiting list until an organ becomes available. The average wait time for someone with CF to receive a transplant is about 18 months. You may have several false alarms. Doctors might find a matching organ, but for many reasons, it may not be suitable for transplant.
  • Transplant surgery: You will have a short window of time to get to the hospital when doctors find an organ for you. This is because the lung waiting for you is only viable for a short time. When you arrive, you will immediately be prepped for surgery. Your transplant surgery will last from 6 to 12 hours.
  • Recovery: Recovery from transplant surgery may take some time, and you may be in the hospital for a while. Once you go home, you need to plan for follow-up appointments to make sure you are progressing well.

Risks to consider

Like any surgery, lung transplants have risks. Your body may reject your new lungs right after surgery or after a few months or years. You may experience loss of lung function or develop chronic infections. For some CF patients, lung transplants can increase quality of life. For others, lung transplants may lead to further complications.2

Lung transplants and life expectancy

Lung transplants are not a cure for CF. They may extend your life and increase your comfort and well-being for several years. It is estimated that 9 to 10 people survive a lung transplant. People can live for 5, 10, or even 20 years after having one. About 87 percent of CF patients who receive lung transplants will live another year. Close to 50 percent of those who receive a lung transplant will survive for an extra 9 years.2,5

It will be important to have regular checkups not only on your new lungs but other organs as well. The transplant will not rid your body of CF. You will still need to manage the disease.2

Resources and information

Your doctor is the best resource for learning more about a lung transplant for cystic fibrosis. Your doctor can refer you to the nearest transplant center. They can answer any questions you may have about the entire process from start to finish.

Would you like to talk to others in the CF community about lung transplants? Reach out in our forums.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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