Cancer isn’t generally thought of as a contagious disease, but three people are dead after cancer cells entered their bodies after they received organ transplants. According to Newsweek, a case study in the American Journal of Transplantation reports that three individuals lost their lives to breast cancer as a result of organs from one donor. Another recipient developed cancer, but successfully treated it with chemotherapy after the donor’s kidney was removed.
As Newsweek notes, doctors say that the fact that four people were “infected” by one donor is rare and that this could actually be the first time that this has happened.
The cancer was passed on because the test designed to spot the dangerous cells did not do so. This is also rare as the chances of cancer being transmitted in this way are between 0.01 to 0.005 percent. Clinicians discovered the problem when a 42-year-old woman who got lungs from the donor found that she had breast cancer because of the organs that she received. The cancer was found after the lungs failed.
Two other recipients were warned that they could get cancer. However, they received the organs anyway after the test did not detect the cancer cells. As mentioned earlier, one of them was able to survive the cancer diagnosis but the other one, a woman, died two months after her doctor told her she had cancer.
The Independent notes that the article in the American Journal of Transplantation recommends that a medical exam should be conducted to ensure that cancerous tumors aren’t present.
According to the journal article, storage of the organs could encourage the proliferation of tumors because of the heat that’s used. They also said that CT scans aren’t necessarily effective in these cases because they tend to deliver false positives that decrease the number of available donors, a pool which is already small when compared to the number of people who need transplants.
The other issue is that donor recipients take medication that weakens their immune system so that their bodies don’t reject the new organ. This could also encourage the spread of cancer through the body.
“This extraordinary case points out the often fatal consequences of donor-derived breast cancer and suggests that removal of the donor organ and restoration of immunity can induce complete remission,” the authors of the case-study wrote, as published by The Independent.
The journal maintains, however, that the current screening procedure is efficient, given the low rate of cancer transmission after transplants.