What is the Lung Transplant Waiting List?

When you have advanced lung disease, a lung transplant can help you live a longer, healthier life. Surgeons remove your diseased lungs and replace them with healthy lungs from a deceased organ donor.

You might need a double lung transplant (replacing both lungs) or a single lung transplant (replacing one lung). For both types, you must wait until donor lungs become available.

If you are approved for lung transplant, you name will be added to the national lung transplant waiting list. This list includes all the people in the U.S. who are waiting for a lung transplant.

What Is the National Lung Transplant Waiting List?

The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) manages the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN).

This computerized list includes all the information doctors need about everyone who is waiting for donated lungs. Experts use this information to match donated organs with people who need them in a way that is fair for everybody.

How Do I Get on the Lung Transplant Waiting List?

The first step is a referral from your doctor to a transplant center. The transplant team reviews your information to see if you should have a transplant evaluation.

If approved for evaluation, you’ll go to the transplant center to see if you are a good candidate for lung transplant surgery. Doctors and social workers will meet with you to be sure you understand the risks and benefits of lung transplant.

Doctors will also:

  • Check your heart and how it functions.
  • Take blood samples.
  • Test your breathing (pulmonary function).

You must meet some criteria to be eligible for lung transplant surgery. These include:

  • Having a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or less.
  • Not having cancer during the past five years (doctors may make exceptions for certain cancer types).
  • Not having any other significant medical problems if you are over age 70.
  • Not smoking or using tobacco products, or vaping, using nicotine patches, or chewing nicotine gum.
  • Not using marijuana unless it is
    prescribed by a physician or other substances.

If you meet all necessary lung transplant criteria, the transplant team adds you to the waiting list.

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How Are Donors and Recipients Matched?

When donated lungs become available, experts scan the list to find potential recipients and match organs. They consider:

  • How sick (or healthy) you are.
  • Your blood type.
  • The size of the donated lung(s).

Experts also consider where you live. Lung transplant needs to happen quickly after donated lungs become available, so you can’t be too far away from the donor.

All these factors are part of your lung allocation score (LAS). Your LAS plays an important role in when you receive a match.

What Is the Lung Allocation Score?

Specialists use your medical information and how they think you’ll respond to lung transplant to create a lung allocation score for you. This score may change if your health condition changes. Doctors will continue to check you and make updates to your LAS.

Your LAS can range from 0 to 100. The higher your score, the more likely you may match when donated lungs are available near you. Be sure to see your doctor regularly and let your transplant team know about any changes or new test results.

How Long Will I Wait for a Lung Transplant?

It’s hard to say for sure how long you’ll wait for donated lungs to become available. The lung transplant waiting list changes often. You can search to see how many people are on the waiting list in the U.S. or in your state at any time.

Will I Be Healthy After Lung Transplant?

You may wonder about the lung transplant success rate and what your own health will be like after lung transplant. It’s hard to predict how your body will respond.

The International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation Registry recently reported survival outcomes for adult lung transplant recipients since 2010. Roughly 85% of lung recipients were still alive 1 year after surgery — and 59% survived at least 5 years.

The median survival rate is about 7 years after transplant. Some people live for many years after lung transplant surgery.

Sources

UPMC Transplant Services, Who is a Lung Transplant Candidate?, https://www.upmc.com/services/transplant/lung/candidates

UNOS, Questions and Answers for Transplant Candidates About Lung Allocation, https://www.unos.org/wp-content/uploads/unos/Lung_Patient.pdf

UPMC Transplant Services, Lung Transplant Surgery Frequently Asked Questions, https://www.upmc.com/services/transplant/lung/process/faq

UPMC Transplant Services, Lung Transplant Surgery: Preparation and Procedure, https://www.upmc.com/services/transplant/lung/process/surgery

United Network of Organ Sharing, Lung, https://transplantliving.org/organ-facts/lung/

About Transplant Services

For more than four decades, UPMC Transplant Services has been a leader in organ transplantation. Our clinicians have performed more than 20,000 organ transplant procedures, making UPMC one of the foremost organ transplant centers in the world. We are home to some of the world’s foremost transplant experts and take on some of the most challenging cases. Through research, we have developed new therapies that provide our patients better outcomes — so organ recipients can enjoy better health with fewer restrictions. Above all, we are committed to providing compassionate, complete care that can change – and save – our patients’ lives. Visit our website to find a provider near you.