Woman Dies After Receiving Smoker's Lungs in Transplant

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Caplin said he thought surgeons might not review such risks in order to avoid having a difficult conversation -- and they may sometimes also feel they are the experts who know what is best for the patient.

"They should do it anyway. Reasonable people can deal with major sources of risk and are exceedingly unlikely to say no to a donation anyway because waiting lists are long and they know they might not get another donation in time," he said.

Patterson said that he understood why Wederell's family was upset, but that it's impossible to know why she developed cancer. Lung transplant recipients receive a great deal more immunosuppressant therapy than other organ recipients to stop the body from rejecting the organ. This may have encouraged the cancer to grow.

"It's plausible that she would have succumbed to some type of cancer no matter what, but there's no way to know for sure," Patterson said.

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