Are organs donated by cancer patients safe?

Since April 2014 UK surgeons have been able to use organs from cancer patients


There is an acute shortage of organs available for transplant in the UK.

Despite numerous attempts to promote the practice of signing and carrying a donor card only 3 out of every 10 of us in the UK have done so.

At the same time surveys indicate that 96% of the population think it is “the right thing to do”.

Currently there are around 7,500 patients needing organs on the transplant waiting list, about half of which will receive a transplant within a year.

Unfortunately 1,000 die each year for want of an organ.

These are the hard statistics behind the changes made to transplant guidelines in 2014 to allow organs from donors who had died from cancer to be used.

There are, of course, strict rules applied to the process.

The organ must be cancer free and the patient’s cancer must have been isolated to a particular part of the body and not have spread to any other area.

The procedure is not entirely risk free and there have been cases where cancer has been brought into a patient’s body through a transplant.

Nine years' research specifically monitoring transplants between 2001 and 2010, where a cancer in the donor was not known before a transplant, revealed a risk of 1 in every 2,000 resulting in a transmission of the disease.

The rules require that this risk is clearly communicated to the recipient before seeking consent but this seems an unlikely barrier to a patient whose life may depend on the transplant.

Since the change to the guidelines 272 donors suffering from cancer have successfully provided 675 healthy organs for transplant.

The transplant authorities hope that cancer sufferers will feel empowered to donate their organs and gain some comfort from the chance their gift of life will provide to others.

It seems shameful to the rest of us, however, that our clinicians are forced to look toward the doomed and terminally ill because so few of us will take the simple steps to do the right thing ourselves before the onset of disaster.

Click here to join the NHS Organ Donor Register


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