Remaining Lung Can Grow
When one lung is surgically removed, an abrupt decrease occurs in the patient's vital capacity -- the maximum amount of air that can be expelled after a maximum inhalation. Yet a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has shown that over time the remaining lung can compensate for this loss by growing brand new alveoli. These are the tiny air sacs within the lungs where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place. Lead author Steven J. Mentzer MD of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard describes, alone with colleagues, the case of a 33-year-old woman underwent a right-sided pneumonectomy in 1995 for treatment of lung cancer. Although her vital capacity did dip as expected after the surgery, her physicians were surprised to note that it increased during the subsequent 15 years. CT scans and MRIs revealed progressive enlargement of the remaining left lung and an increase in tissue density. Amazingly, this turned out to be due to a rise in the actual number of alveoli rather enlargement of existing alveoli. The authors wrote that although the alveoli in the growing lung were shallower than in normal lungs, "This study provides evidence that new lung growth can occur in an adult human." Although this finding is obviously good news for COPD sufferers and lung cancer patients, never forget that you're still better off quitting smoking and thus avoiding losing one lung in the first place! True, not all of those with COPD or lung cancer are smokers. Some have "idiopathic" diseases – that is, conditions of no known origin. Still, smoking skyrockets your chances of contracting a lung disorder so make the commitment to kick the habit today!