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The mystery surrounding lung-transplant survival rates

Updated 3-3-14: This story and video focus on living long-term with transplanted organs and discuss why some transplant patients exceed standard expectations.


11-1-12: There were more than 1,800 lung transplants in the United States last year, and 190 of those occurred in California, according to data from the federal Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. A recent story in the San Francisco Chronicle takes a closer look at the challenges facing lung transplant patients and explores why a significant number don't live beyond the five-year mark, despite improvements in survival rates.

Erin Allday writes:

Only about 55 percent of patients survive five years after the transplant. Those rates are better at Bay Area hospitals, where about two-thirds of patients can expect to survive that long. Nationwide, only a third of patients live 10 years.

It's unclear what, exactly, goes wrong after the first year. Most patients die of what's known as chronic rejection, which causes the airways of the lung to deteriorate slowly. Doctors don't yet know how to prevent or stop that process.

"I started doing (lung transplants) in the early '90s, and it was really primitive then, and it's gotten a lot better. All sorts of things have improved," said Dr. David Weill, director of Stanford's Center for Advanced Lung Disease. "But we haven't solved the mystery of that slow loss of lung function."

Previously: Regular exercise may boost lung transplant patients’ heart health, quality of life and Given a second chance, lung transplant patient moves forward with gusto

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