Lung Transplant Survival Rate and Life Expectancy

lung transplant may be the best option for some people with severe lung disease. The procedure can improve quality of life and help you live longer. However, there are serious risks, such as infection and rejection. And long-term use of anti-rejection drugs can increase the risk of other health problems.

Lungs are very fragile organs. That may be why the survival rate doesn't match that of other solid organ transplants. The median survival rate after a single-lung transplant is 4.6 years. Double-lung recipients tend to do better, with a median survival rate of 6.6 years. Of course, some people live much longer.

This article discusses general survival rates and what to expect after surgery.

Close up of surgeons in the operating room.

Paul Harizan / Getty Images

Lung Transplant Life Expectancy

According to data from the National Institutes of Health, following single-lung transplants:

  • About 78% of patients survive the first year
  • About 63% survive three years
  • About 51% survive five years

The International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation Registry puts the one-year survival rate for adults at 85% and the five-year survival rate at 59%.

Keep in mind that these are general statistics, and they may vary by facility. Some people survive 20 years or more after a lung transplant.

The leading cause of death following an organ transplant is cancer. Immunosuppressants, the drugs that prevent your body from rejecting the new organ, can increase cancer risk.

Lung transplant survival rates may vary by age. The youngest and oldest adults have the lowest survival rates. One study of over 14,000 people found that the median age at transplant is 59.

The number of lung recipients over age 65 has been growing. Advances in treatment for lung disease may be delaying the need for lung transplants.

Research Studies

Survival rates for lung recipients tell a story, but not the whole story. How does this survival rate compare to that of the general population? A study published in 2022 set out to answer that question.

Researchers compared adults who had lung transplantation between 1990 and 2007 with the general population. They found that lung recipients had a five-times higher standardized mortality ratio (SMR) over the general, non-hospitalized population. Other findings were:

  • Women, Hispanic, and younger recipients had the largest gaps in survival.
  • People with cystic fibrosis and immunodeficiency disorders had the lowest SMR compared to those with other diagnoses.
  • Double-lung recipients had lower SMR compared to single-lung recipients.
  • Death from cardiovascular causes is lower for lung recipients than for the general population.
  • Lung recipients are at higher risk of death from cancer, infections, cerebrovascular, or lung problems.
  • SMR peaks in the first year after surgery and consistently declines over time.

Lung transplantation is a major area of research, with hundreds of clinical trials in the works around the country. Researchers are studying ways to reduce organ rejection and extend the life of those who receive lungs.

What to Expect

A new lung may improve your quality of life and help you live longer. But the recovery process can take up to six months. Following surgery, you'll need a caregiver for at least the first few months.

You'll start taking anti-rejection medicine right away. The transplant team will tell you how to take care of the incision site to prevent infection. They'll also advise you on when it's safe to:

  • Go to school or work
  • Drive
  • Exercise
  • Have sex

Your doctor will be able to offer more insights into what to expect based on your medical history.

Maintaining Health After a Lung Transplant

Serious complications are most likely to happen in the first year after lung transplant surgery. Two major complications to be on the lookout for are organ rejection and infection.

Over time, taking immune suppressants can lead to:

Regular doctor appointments can help catch potential problems early.

Prolonging Life Expectancy

  • Follow your treatment plan: Missing doses of medicines can increase the chances that your body will reject your new lung.
  • Exercise: Daily exercise can improve lung and heart function, as well as overall health.
  • Don't smoke: Smoking can damage your new lung and raise the risk of cancer.
  • Avoid alcohol: Alcohol may combine with other medications and damage your liver.
  • Good oral hygiene: Take good care of your teeth and gums to avoid infection. Get a prescription for antibiotics before you have dental work.
  • Limit sun exposure: Skin cancer is 10 times more common in people who've had an organ transplant.
  • Check for cancer: Get all routine medical check-ups and recommended cancer screenings.


Median survival following a lung transplant is four to six years, but it's possible to live much longer. Your individual prognosis depends on many factors, such as your age, where you get the surgery, and follow-up care. Because lungs are so fragile, life expectancy is shorter than with other solid organ transplants.

Recovery from the surgery can take up to six months. But it can help you breathe better and improve your quality of life. However, you'll need to take immunosuppressants for the rest of your life. This will help prevent your body from rejecting your new organ.

A Word From Verywell

A lung transplant is generally a treatment of last resort. It's something to consider when your life expectancy without it is short, your quality of life is poor, or other treatments have failed.

The procedure to get on the waiting list, and the waiting itself, is likely to be stressful. Also, the surgery is risky. But a successful lung transplant can add years to your life. Your doctor can help you understand all the potential risks and benefits of a lung transplant and what it could mean for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the odds of surviving a lung transplant?

    As with any major surgery, there are serious risks in having a lung transplant, including death. However, some statistics show that nearly 85% of people who have a lung transplant are still alive one year later.

  • What is the longest living lung transplant patient?

    It's hard to say for certain but in 2021, Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee reported on the (then) longest-surviving single-lung recipient, who was celebrating 30+ years.

  • What is life like after a lung transplant?

    You shouldn't compare yourself to anyone else but it's safe to say that it'll take three to six months to recover from the surgery. You'll always need to take care of your health, take immunosuppressants, and see your doctor regularly. Everyone's different, but there's a good chance you'll be breathing easier and feeling better than before the surgery.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institutes of Health. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: Lung transplant-What are the risks of lung transplant?-Risk factors.

  2. Bos S, Vos R, Van Raemdonck DE, Verleden GM. Survival in adult lung transplantation: where are we in 2020? Current Opinion in Organ Transplantation. 2020;25(3):268-273. doi:10.1097/MOT.0000000000000753

  3. U.K. National Health System. Lung transplant.

  4. Columbia Surgery. Resuming life after lung transplantation.

  5. Lehr CJ, Blackstone EH, McCurry KR, Thuita L, Tsuang WM, Valapour M. Extremes of age decrease survival in adults after lung transplant. Chest. 2020;157(4):907-915.

  6. Courtwright A, Cantu E. Lung transplantation in elderly patients. J Thorac Dis. 2017;9(9):3346-3351. doi:10.21037/jtd.2017.08.31

  7. Iguidbashian J, Cotton J, King RW, et al. Survival following lung transplantation: A population‐based nested case‐control study. Journal of Cardiac Surgery. 2022;37(5):1153-1160. doi:10.1111/jocs.16365

  8. Studies for lung transplant.

  9. Vanderbilt University. Transplant patient celebrates 30th anniversary.

Additional Reading

By Ann Pietrangelo
Ann Pietrangelo is a freelance writer, health reporter, and author of two books about her personal health experiences.