Despite the success of Heidler's procedure, no other larynx transplant was attempted in the U.S. until Jensen's.
Part of the reason was a decrease in the number of patients in need of the procedure, Strome said.
Years ago, the most common reason for an injured larynx was automobile accidents because the throat would slam into the steering wheel upon impact. Thanks to airbags, which protect against such an injury, and better techniques for fixing or reconstructing injured larynxes, there are not as many patients who would qualify for a transplant.
Even those who may benefit from a transplant must be able to live with the necessary immuno-suppressing medications for the rest of their life. That takes those with laryngeal cancer, who otherwise would be prime candidates for transplant, out of the running because the drugs could increase the chance of their cancers returning, Strome said.
With the help of knowledge gained from Heidler and Jensen's surgeries, doctors are working towards a more workable way to transplant part or all of a larynx in cancer patients.
"When you give immunosuppresion so that the organ won't reject, you're giving the cancer a better chance to come back and grow," said Strome. "But we've learned a ton in terms of making a transplant potentially doable even ... in the face of cancer."
Thanks to better techniques for removing larynx cancers and the success of chemoradiation, a larynx transplant would only be needed for a minority of laryngeal cancer patients, so it's likely to remain a rare procedure.