Three out of four people who developed breast cancer from donated organs eventually succumbed to the disease. Interestingly, the donor who died of a heart attack was tested negative for cancer at the time of her death. ( pixabay )

There are rare cases in which organ donors unknowingly pass on infectious diseases to organ recipients, but an even rarer occurrence is the transmission of cancer by the graft.

In Europe, four people who have received organs from a single donor develop breast cancer for many months to several years after transplantation. What are important information about organ donation in cancer?

Cancer of donated organs

In 2007, a 53-year-old organ donor died of a stroke. Since she did not know any health problems that would prevent her from donating her organs, and she was not tested positive for cancer, the heart, lungs, liver and two kidneys were given to different people.

However, 16 months after organ transplants, the woman who received the lung contracted breast cancer cells in the lymph nodes in her breast. DNA tests showed that the cells belong to those of the donor and the recipient died within one year of the diagnosis.

When the person who received the donor's heart died of unrelated causes shortly after the procedure, the doctors informed the three remaining organ recipients about what had happened and tested them, which turned out to be negative.

However, in 2011, breast cancer cells were found in the liver of the liver transplant patient. Because she did not want to perform another liver transplant for fear of complications, she opted for radiation therapy for the cancer, which initially worked. Unfortunately, the cancer eventually returned and she died in 2014.

In 2013, it was found that the patient who received the donor's left kidney also had breast cancer cells in the donated organ. At the time of the discovery, however, the cancer had already spread to its other organs. She died only two months later.

The last recipient, a 32-year-old man who received the donor's right kidney, was diagnosed with breast cancer cells in the donated kidney. The doctors immediately removed the kidney and he also received treatment for the cancer. The man has survived and is free of cancer.

Exceptional case

The authors of the report published in the American Journal of Transplantation describes the case as extraordinary. The patient had unrecognized cancer that spread but was too small to be detected by screening or imaging.

Unfortunately, it was easier for the cancer cells to grow in the recipient's body because they needed to take medication to suppress their immune system, so their bodies would not reject the donated organs.

According to the American Cancer Society, the risk of getting cancer from a donated organ is actually extremely low, but it actually happens. That said, it's fine for cancer survivors who want to help other people donate their organs, but it depends on the type of cancer and other conditions.

For example, a person who was free of cancer for a long time before the donation can donate their organs. In fact, even those who had brain cancer that did not spread beyond the brain stem can donate their organs. On the other hand, a person recently diagnosed with cancer should not donate any organs.

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