Lung Transplantation Shown to Increase Life Expectancy for Patients With Asbestosis


When a veteran's respiratory health has deteriorated to a level at which doctors predict that he won't live long, a lung transplant is often considered the best choice to improve the survival and functional status.

The most frequent underlying clinical indications that justify lung transplantation are chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, pulmonary fibrosis or interstitial lung disease. The form of interstitial lung disease caused by asbestos is called asbestosis.

Lung Inflammation and Scarring Caused by Prolonged Exposure to Asbestos Fibers Make It Hard to Get Enough Oxygen

Interstitial lung disease is an umbrella term used for a group of conditions related to tissue scarring around the air sacs of the lungs. This scarring causes stiffness in the lungs which makes it more difficult for the lungs to expand properly or transfer oxygen to the blood. Lung damage from interstitial lung diseases is irreversible and progressive, meaning it gets worse over time.

There are many possible causes of interstitial lung disease, but inhalation of toxins, dust, and minerals is the most common cause. In particular, inhalation of asbestos fibers can lead to a type of interstitial lung disease called asbestosis - a type of pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable disease with a dismal prognosis. When asbestos fibers enter the lungs, they become embedded in tissue. These tiny fibers can travel further into the lungs, causing thickening tissue and scarring. The scarring is more extensive and severe with greater exposure to asbestos.

Diagnosis of interstitial lung disease can be tricky because symptoms are similar to other conditions, like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, tuberculosis or pneumonia. If you have been exposed to asbestos it is important to inform your doctor. Diagnosis generally begins with lung function tests and chest X-rays. Lung function tests determine if your lung capacity is diminished and chest X-rays will let your doctor know the amount of fibers and how much they have scarred your lungs.

As a result of their lung condition, veterans may have several associated problems that must be addressed:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Increased oxygen need
  • Fear or anxiety due to breathlessness

In addition to difficulty breathing and inadequate oxygen, interstitial lung disease can cause other serious complications. For example, interstitial lung disease was reported to be associated with an increased risk of lung cancer.

While a Lung Transplant Is Not a Cure, It Can Relieve Symptoms of Asbestosis and Provide Pain Relief

A lung transplant is most often considered when the lung disease is so severe that it can't be improved with any other treatment. Lung transplantation is a complex surgical procedure in which a patient's damaged lungs are partially or totally replaced by healthy lungs harvested from a deceased donor. To be considered eligible for a lung transplant, you will need to meet a broad range of physical criteria:

  • Asbestosis cannot be treated with a transplant until the patient has a poor prognosis, with an anticipated 18 to 24 months life expectancy
  • The patient have tried other medications or treatments, but their conditions haven't sufficiently improved
  • The scarring of the lung tissue is so bad that the lungs are hardly working
  • A lung transplant is reserved for people with no other life-threatening illnesses and with good rehabilitation potential

In order to be considered a potential transplant candidate, a patient will have to undergo extensive tests and screening to determine the relative chances of a successful transplant. Once placed on the waiting list, about 50 percent of people receive their lungs.

If you are in your mid-60s or older and you have been diagnosed with asbestosis after being exposed to asbestos while in the Navy, you may wonder if you are eligible for a lung transplant. Many transplant centers performed lung transplant procedures to people in their seventies, and although their risks are higher, they've had good results in this age group.

Navy Veterans Who Suffer From This Debilitating Disease Will Completely Lose the Function of Their Lungs and Only a Lung Transplant Can Restore Function

Lung transplant for patients with asbestosis has become increasingly prevalent because of the disease's poor prognosis, and the promising survival rates of people who have received lung transplants.

Because it is a progressive disease, asbestosis typically occurs 10 to 40 years after the first exposure to asbestos. Inhalation of air that contains asbestos fibers is the only route of exposure which may lead to pulmonary fibrosis.

Prior to the 1980s, asbestos was widely used in shipbuilding, in the manufacture of ships' boilers and turbines, and in the valves, pump, and pipes, for its fire-retardant, heat insulation and anti-corrosion qualities.

Certain Navy veterans faced a higher risk of asbestos-related illnesses than others, depending on the jobs they held on ships:

  • Those working in boiler rooms, engine rooms, navigation rooms, weapons and ammunition storage rooms
  • Those who worked with, handled, damaged or disturbed any asbestos-containing materials
  • Those that repaired and maintained systems like pumps
  • Those that made repairs to the infrastructure of a ship

Veterans Who Have Developed Illnesses Due to Exposure to Asbestos Are Entitled to Recover Compensation for Costly Medical Bills and Treatment Programs

Lung transplantation is a complex procedure with a high potential for major complications. The recovery from transplant surgery can be many months and lifelong immunosuppression can also lead to other medical complications. Risks and complications associated with a lung transplant include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Primary graft dysfunction
  • Severe pulmonary edema
  • Rejection of the donor's lung
  • Other complications such as diabetes, osteoporosis and kidney diseases

Veterans who undergo lung transplant surgery may qualify to recover compensation for all medical costs and treatment programs. For instance, veterans who have to undergo a lung transplant following an asbestos-related diagnosis may be eligible to seek compensation from the companies responsible for the asbestos exposure that caused the development of lung disease. For more information, call us at 760.621.6147.

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