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People who receive a lung transplanted from a smoker live longer than people who need a transplant and don’t receive one, a new study finds.

While getting a lung from a smoker was better than not receiving one at all, it still was not as beneficial as receiving a lung from a non-smoker. The three-year survival rate for recipients of lungs transplanted from smokers was lower than for recipients of lungs from non-smokers, ABC News reports. Recipients of smokers’ lungs also had more complications. The study included 1,295 lung transplant recipients, 39 percent of whom received lungs from people who had previously smoked.

The findings support a policy of transplanting lungs from people who have smoked, the researchers said. “Donors with positive smoking histories provide nearly 40 percent of the lungs available for transplantation,” they wrote in The Lancet. “Rejection of this donor-organ resource would increase waiting-list mortality and is ill advised.”

In an editorial accompanying the study, Drs. Marcelo Cypel and Shaf Keshavjee of the Toronto Lung Transplant Program said techniques that can preserve and repair lungs damaged by certain diseases could increase the safety and effectiveness of available lungs. They explain that the United Network for Organ Sharing, which manages the United States’ organ transplant system, has instituted a system designed to make better use of available lungs, and to reduce the number of people who die while waiting for a transplant.

Each person on the waiting list receives a score that indicates how severely ill they are and how likely it is that a transplant will succeed. The scores are used to determine who should receive priority once a lung becomes available. This program “reduced mortality of patients on the waiting list without a substantial increase in lung donors,” they wrote.

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