Case-Based Review

Management of Late Pulmonary Complications After Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation




Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) is increasingly being used to treat hematologic malignancies as well as nonmalignant diseases and solid tumors. Over the past 2 decades overall survival following transplant and transplant-related mortality have improved.1 With this increased survival, there is a need to focus on late complications after transplantation. Pulmonary complications are a common but sometimes underrecognized cause of late morbidity and mortality in HSCT patients. This article, the second of 2 articles on post-HSCT pulmonary complications, reviews late-onset complications, with a focus on the evaluation and treatment of bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome (BOS), one of the most common and serious late pulmonary complications in HSCT patients. The first article reviewed the management of early-onset pulmonary complications and included a basic overview of stem cell transplantation, discussion of factors associated with pulmonary complications, and a review of methods for assessing pretransplant risk for pulmonary complications in patients undergoing HSCT.2

Case Presentation

A 40-year-old white woman with a history of acute myeloid leukemia status post peripheral blood stem cell transplant presents with dyspnea on exertion, which she states started about 1 month ago and now is limiting her with even 1 flight of stairs. She also complains of mild dry cough and a 4- to 5-lb weight loss over the past 1 to 2 months. She has an occasional runny nose, but denies gastroesophageal reflux, fevers, chills, or night sweats. She has a history of matched related sibling donor transplant with busulfan and cyclophosphamide conditioning 1 year prior to presentation. She has had significant graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), affecting the liver, gastrointestinal tract, skin, and eyes.

On physical examination, heart rate is 110 beats/min, respiratory rate is 16 breaths/min, blood pressure is 92/58 mm Hg, and the patient is afebrile. Eye exam reveals scleral injection, mouth shows dry mucous membranes with a few white plaques, and the skin has chronic changes with a rash over both arms. Cardiac exam reveals tachycardia but regular rhythm and there are no murmurs, rubs, or gallops. Lungs are clear bilaterally and abdomen shows no organomegaly.

Laboratory exam shows a white blood cell count of 7800 cells/μL, hemoglobin level of 12.4 g/dL, and platelet count of 186 × 103/μL. Liver enzymes are mildly elevated. Chest radiograph shows clear lung fields bilaterally.

  • What is the differential in this patient with dyspnea 1 year after transplantation?

Late pulmonary complications are generally accepted as those occurring more than 100 days post transplant. This period of time is characterized by chronic GVHD and impaired cellular and humoral immunity. Results of longitudinal studies of infections in adult HSCT patients suggest that special attention should be paid to allogeneic HSCT recipients for post-engraftment infectious pulmonary complications.3 Encapsulated bacteria such as Haemophilus influenzae and Streptococcus pneumoniae are the most frequent bacterial organisms causing late infectious pulmonary complications. Nontuberculous mycobacteria and Nocardia should also be considered. Depending upon geographic location, social and occupational risk factors, and prevalence, tuberculosis should also enter the differential.

There are many noninfectious late-onset pulmonary complications after HSCT. Unfortunately, the literature has divided pulmonary complications after HSCT using a range of criteria and classifications based upon timing, predominant pulmonary function test (PFT) findings, and etiology. These include early versus late, obstructive versus restrictive, and infectious versus noninfectious, which makes a comprehensive literature review of late pulmonary complications difficult. The most common noninfectious late-onset complications are bronchiolitis obliterans, cryptogenic organizing pneumonia (previously referred to as bronchiolitis obliterans organizing pneumonia, or BOOP), and interstitial pneumonia. Other rarely reported complications include eosinophilic pneumonia, pulmonary alveolar proteinosis, air leak syndrome, and pulmonary hypertension.

Case Continued

Because the patient does not have symptoms of infection, PFTs are obtained. Pretransplant PFTs and current PFTs are shown in Table 1.

  • What is the diagnosis in this case?

Bronchiolitis Obliterans

BOS is one of the most common and most serious late-onset pulmonary diseases after allogeneic transplantation. It is considered the pulmonary form of chronic GVHD. BOS was first described in 1982 in patients with chronic GVHD after bone marrow transplantation.4 Many differing definitions of bronchiolitis obliterans have been described in the literature. A recent review of the topic cites 10 different published sets of criteria for the diagnosis of bronchiolitis obliterans.5 Traditionally, bronchiolitis obliterans was thought to occur in 2% to 8% of patients undergoing allogeneic HSCT, but these findings were from older studies that used a diagnosis based on very specific pathology findings. When more liberal diagnostic criteria are used, the incidence may be as high as 26% of allogeneic HSCT patients.6

Bronchiolitis obliterans is a progressive lung disease characterized by narrowing of the terminal airways and obliteration of the terminal bronchi. Pathology may show constrictive bronchiolitis but can also show lymphocytic bronchiolitis, which may be associated with a better outcome.7 As noted, bronchiolitis obliterans has traditionally been considered a pathologic diagnosis. Current diagnostic criteria have evolved based upon the difficulty in obtaining this diagnosis through transbronchial biopsy given the patchy nature of the disease.8 The gold standard of open lung biopsy is seldom pursued in the post-HSCT population as the procedure continues to carry a worrisome risk-benefit profile.

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