American doctors announced on Thursday that they had succeeded in performing a double lung transplant on a patient with terminal lung cancer, raising hopes for other advanced patients.
The patient in question, Albert Khoury, a 54-year-old non-smoker, spent seven hours on the operating table to receive his new lungs, at Northwestern Medicine Hospital in Chicago, on September 25, 2021.
Six months later, her new lungs are functioning well and no trace of cancer cells have been found in her body.
"Lung transplants are extremely rare in lung cancer, with very few known examples," Ankit Bharat, chief thoracic surgeon at Northwestern Medicine, said in a statement.
"For patients with stage 4 cancer, lung transplantation is considered absolutely out of the question, but since Albert's cancer was confined to his chest, we were confident that we could rid him of all cancer cells in the operation and save his life.
Six months after Albert Khoury's surgery, the lungs are working well and he has no signs of cancer in his body.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) March 24, 2022
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He thought he had Covid-19
Surgeons are generally reluctant to perform this type of transplant because the risk of relapse in a patient who must take immunosuppressive drugs to prevent rejection of the transplant is very high if even a few cancer cells in the body.
The first few surgeries of this kind failed, but doctors now know more about how cancers spread.
Albert Khoury's symptoms appeared in early 2020: back pain, sneezing, chills, coughing... This Chicago construction worker first thought it was Covid-19, before starting to cough up blood and to call his doctor.
The exams reveal stage 1 cancer. "But because of the wave of Covid-19, I could not start treatment immediately," he said in a press release.
“It was a thrilling night”
In July 2020, his cancer had worsened, at stage 2. And chemotherapy did not prevent him from progressing further, at stages 3 then 4. He had been told that he would not survive it, when his sister told him about lung transplants at Northwestern Medicine Hospital, a pioneer in this field.
In 2020, a team led by surgeon Ankit Bharat had already performed a double transplant on a young woman whose lungs had been ravaged by Covid-19.
After further attempts at treatment, Albert Khoury, whose condition was deteriorating, was deemed eligible for this transplant because his cancer, although stage 4, had not spread to any other organs.
The team that operated on him had to, in six hours, remove "trillions" of cancerous cells from his lungs, taking care not to let them come into contact with his chest or his bloodstream.
“It was a thrilling night,” summed up Ankit Bharat.
The deadliest cancer in the United States
Albert Khoury can now lead a normal life, work or play sports without respiratory assistance.
"I haven't smiled for over a year, but now I can't stop," he said.
After its success, Ankit Bharat's team set out to develop new protocols to determine who else might be eligible for such treatment.
“We are now convinced that it is possible to offer a transplant in the case of cancer.
I think this will have more significant effects than what we can envisage at the present time, ”launched the surgeon.
Lung cancer is by far the deadliest in the United States, with nearly one in four deaths related to this disease.
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