Deadly Donation: New Study Explains How One Organ Donor Spread Cancer to Four People

Tuesday, 18 September 2018 - 11:08AM
Medical Tech
Tuesday, 18 September 2018 - 11:08AM
Deadly Donation: New Study Explains How One Organ Donor Spread Cancer to Four People
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Image Credit: Pixabay Composite
There's only one emotional gut-punch worse than being told you have cancer, and that's being told your cancer came from the transplant that was supposed to save your life. That was the situation four patients found themselves in after receiving kidney, lung, liver, and heart transplants from an unnamed 53-year-old woman who died of a stroke in 2007. Today, only one of those organ recipients is alive (the heart recipient died soon after the transplant, but not due to cancer).

For the lung transplant patient, the trouble started a little over a year from the original procedure. After complaining of feeling sick, the woman underwent a medical screening and was found to have cancer cells in her lymph nodes. Upon closer inspection, these cells were revealed to be breast cancer originating from the donor. The cancer managed to metastasize, and the woman died a year after being diagnosed.

This triggered major alarm bells for the organization that had overseen the transplants from the original donor, and soon the other patients were informed that they may be at risk of developing breast cancer. But there was a twist: the other patients' cancer screenings came back clean at first. It took until 2011 for the first signs of cancer to appear in the liver transplant patient, who refused to undergo another transplant. Despite receiving treatment, they died in 2014, one year after the recipient of the left kidney transplant, whose cancer had already spread beyond the kidney.

That left only the second kidney recipient, a 32-year-old man. Cancer cells were discovered in his kidney as well, but his treatment proved effective enough to save his life: the kidney was removed, and he began chemotherapy to wipe out the remaining cancer cells in his body.

The worrying thing about this case, according to medical professionals, is that the original donor went through the same rigorous testing all organ donors go through, which includes screening for cancer. According to a study conducted on the case, the chance of an organ recipient developing cancer from a transplanted organ is between 1 and 5 in 10,000. Despite the tragic circumstances of this case, the director of organ transplantation at Northwell Health, Dr. Lewis Teperman, says that it shouldn't worry anyone who's thinking about a transplant: "The organ supply is incredibly safe."

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