Lung cancer: a rare indication for, but frequent complication after lung transplantation

Dirk Van Raemdonck, Robin Vos, Jonas Yserbyt, Herbert Decaluwe, Paul De Leyn, Geert M. Verleden


Lung transplantation is an effective and safe therapy for carefully selected patients suffering from a variety of end-stage pulmonary diseases. Lung cancer negatively affects prognosis, particularly in patients who are no longer candidates for complete resection. Lung transplantation can be considered for carefully selected and well staged lung cancer patients with proven, lung-limited, multifocal, (minimally invasive) adenocarcinoma in situ (AIS) (previously called bronchioloalveolar cell carcinoma) causing respiratory failure. Despite a substantial risk of tumour recurrence (33–75%), lung transplantation may offer a survival benefit (50% at 5 years) with best palliation of their disease. Reports on lung transplantation for other low-grade malignancies are rare. Lung transplant candidates at higher risk for developing lung cancer [mainly previous smokers with chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD) and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) or older patients] should be thoroughly and repeatedly screened for lung cancer prior to listing, and preferably also during waiting list time if longer than 1 year, including the use of PET-CT scan and EBUS-assisted bronchoscopy in case of undefined, but suspicious pulmonary abnormalities. Double-lung transplantation should now replace single-lung transplantation in these high-risk patients because of a 6–9% prevalence of lung cancer developing in the remaining native lung. Patients with unexpected, early stage bronchial carcinoma in the explanted lung may have favourable survival without recurrence. Early PET-CT (at 3–6 months) following lung transplantation is advisable to detect early, subclinical disease progression. Donor lungs from (former) smokers should be well examined at retrieval. Suspicious nodules should be biopsied to avoid grafting cancer in the recipient. Close follow-up with regular visits and screening test in all recipients is needed because of the increased risk of developing a primary or secondary cancer in the allograft from either donor or recipient origin.