Doctors have performed a successful double lung transplant to save the life of a man with terminal lung cancer.

The ‘extremely uncommon’ procedure will offer hope to people with advanced stages of the deadly disease.

Albert Khoury, a 54-year-old non-smoker, underwent seven hours of surgery at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago on September 25 last year.

Mr Khoury was diagnosed with stage 1 lung cancer in 2020 which rapidly became terminal, despite receiving chemotherapy.

Just six months after his surgery, the lungs are working well, Mr Khoury has no signs of cancer, and is living a normal life, including going to the gym without breathing support.

Mr Khoury said: “My life went from zero to 100 because of Northwestern Medicine. You didn’t see this smile on my face for over a year, but now I can’t stop smiling.”

Usually, surgeons are reluctant to perform such transplants because, even if there are just a few cancerous cells remaining, its highly likely that in a patient taking immune-suppressing medications to prevent organ rejection, the cancer cells will regrow. Now, recent advancements mean that doctors can better understand cancer’s spread.

Ankit Bharat, chief of thoracic surgery at Northwestern Medicine, explained: “Lung transplantation for lung cancer is extremely uncommon with few cases reported.

“For patients with stage 4 cancer, lung transplantation is considered a complete ‘no-no,’ but because Albert’s cancer was confined only to his chest, we were confident we could clear all the cancer during surgery and save his life.”

After experiencing back pain, sneezing, chills, coughing up mucus and blood, and assuming he had COVID-19, Mr Khoury was diagnosed with cancer in early 2020.

He said: “They discovered stage 1 lung cancer, but due to the COVID-19 surge, I couldn’t begin treatment right away.”

By July that same year, the cancer had progressed to stage 2, despite chemotherapy, and then progressed to stage 3 and 4. He was told there was no chance of survival, but his sister told him about the ground-breaking lung transplants at Northwestern.

In 2020 Bharat led a team that completed the first double lung transplant on a woman whose lungs had been destroyed by COVID.

Mr Khoury’s oncologist, Young Chae at Northwestern, wanted to try other cancer-fighting treatments first but his health continued to decline, and Mr Khoury ended up in an intensive care unit suffering from pneumonia and sepsis.

Despite being stage 4, his cancer had not spread further than his lungs, so he was a candidate for transplant and received new lungs after two weeks.

‘Trillions’ of cancer cells were removed from his lungs within six hours, while surgeons were careful not to spill material into his chest cavity or blood stream.

Ankit Bharat described it as “an exciting night”.

After the surgery’s success, Bharat and Chae are now creating a new set of protocols to determine other people who might be eligible for the procedure.

In the US, lung cancer is the foremost cause of cancer-related deaths, accounting for almost 25 per cent of cancer deaths. It is the second most common cancer in the US, after breast cancer.

Almost 250,000 Americans are diagnosed with lung cancer per year, leading to over 130,000 deaths.

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