Case-Based Review

Management of Early Pulmonary Complications After Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation



Pretransplant Evaluation

Case Patient 1

A 56-year-old man is diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) after presenting with signs and symptoms consistent with pancytopenia. He has a past medical history of chronic sinus congestion, arthritis, depression, chronic pain, and carpal tunnel surgery. He is employed as an oilfield worker and has a 40-pack-year smoking history, but he recently cut back to half a pack per day. He is being evaluated for allogeneic transplant with his brother as the donor and the planned conditioning regimen is total body irradiation (TBI), thiotepa, cyclophosphamide, and antithymocyte globulin with T-cell depletion. Routine pretransplant pulmonary function testing (PFT) reveals a restrictive pattern and he is sent for pretransplant pulmonary evaluation.

Physical exam reveals a chronically ill appearing man. He is afebrile, the respiratory rate is 16 breaths/min, blood pressure is 145/88 mm Hg, heart rate is 92 beats/min, and oxygen saturation is 95%. He is in no distress. Auscultation of the chest reveals slightly diminished breath sounds bilaterally but is clear and without wheezes, rhonchi, or rales. Heart exam shows regular rate and rhythm without murmurs, rubs, or gallops. Extremities reveal no edema or rashes. Otherwise, the remainder of the exam is normal. The patient’s PFT results are shown in Table 2.

  • What aspects of this patient’s history put him at risk for pulmonary complications after transplantation?

Risk Factors for Pulmonary Complications

Predicting who is at risk for pulmonary complications is difficult. Complications are generally divided into infectious and noninfectious categories. Regardless of category, allogeneic HSCT recipients are at increased risk compared with autologous recipients, but even in autologous transplants, more than 25% of patients will develop pulmonary complications in the first year.8 Prior to transplant, patients undergo full PFT. Early on, many studies attempted to show relationships between various factors and post-transplant pulmonary complications. Factors that were implicated were forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1), diffusing capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide (Dlco), total lung capacity (TLC), GVHD prophylaxis, TBI, and FEV1/forced vital capacity (FEV1/FVC) ratio.9-15 Generally, poor baseline pulmonary functional status has been shown to correlate with higher risk for pulmonary complications. The most widely accepted pre-transplant PFT values examined for determining risk for developing pulmonary complications are FEV1 and Dlco.

Another sometimes overlooked risk before transplantation is restrictive lung disease. One study showed a twofold increase in respiratory failure and mortality if there was pretransplant restriction based on TLC < 80%.16

An interesting study by one group in pretransplant evaluation found decreased muscle strength by maximal inspiratory muscle strength (PImax), maximal expiratory muscle strength (PEmax), dominant hand grip strength, and 6-minute walk test (6MWT) distance prior to allogeneic transplant, but did not find a relationship between these variables and mortality.17 While this study had a small sample size, these findings likely deserve continued investigation.18

  • What methods are used to calculate risk for complications?

Risk Scoring Systems

Several pretransplantation risk scores have been developed. In a study that looked at more than 2500 allogeneic transplants, Parimon et al showed that risk of mortality and respiratory failure could be estimated prior to transplant using a scoring system—the Lung Function Score (LFS)—that combines the FEV1 and Dlco.19 They assigned a score to the FEV1 and Dlco based on the percentage of predicted values on PFT. Values greater than 80% were assigned 1 point, values 70% to 80% 2 points, 60% to 70% 3 points, and less than 60% 4 points. Combining the values for the FEV1 and Dlco provides the LFS. A normal score is 2 (1 point each for FEV1 and Dlco values > 80%) and is category I. A score of 3–4 is mildly decreased, category II; a score of 5–6 is moderately decreased, category III; and 7–8 is severely decreased, category IV. The hazard ratios (HR) for acute respiratory failure after transplant were 1.4, 2.2, and 3.1 for categories II, III, and IV, respectively. The HRs for mortality were 1.2, 2.2, and 2.7 for the same categories.19 This LFS has been used post-transplantation as well to categorize pulmonary GVHD.20

The Pretransplantation Assessment of Mortality score, initially developed in 2006, predicts mortality within the first 2 years after HSCT based on 8 clinical factors: disease risk, age at transplant, donor type, conditioning regimen, and markers of organ function (percentage of predicted FEV1, percentage of predicted Dlco, serum creatinine level, serum alanine aminotransferase level). Given the increased use of reduced-intensity conditioning regimens, the authors reevaluated the PAM score and following this analysis, creatinine, percent predicted Dlco, and liver function tests were found to no longer be statistically significant and were removed from the PAM score in 2015.21,22 Another widely used score is the Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation-specific Comorbidity Index (HCT-CI),23 which predicts mortality following allogeneic stem cell transplantation. The HCT-CI also uses the FEV1 and the Dlco as the 2 objective measures of pulmonary function.23 While these pulmonary tests help with risk stratification, they are not perfect and it is not advised to use an isolated low Dlco to exclude individuals from transplant.24 Recently, Coffey et al looked at the practice of correcting Dlco for hemoglobin by the Cotes method as suggested by the American Thoracic Society (ATS) versus the Dinakara method that was used in the HCT-CI.25 In this study, the use of the Cotes method resulted in an elevated HCT-CI in 45% of patients, and in 33% it resulted in higher mortality risk predictions. Since the HCT-CI is validated using the Dinakara method, that method should be used in the HCT-CI calculations.25


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