Did you know that currently there are over 123,000 people in the United States waiting for an organ transplant? Furthermore, an additional person is added to the list every 12 minutes. Each of these people is in dire need of a liver, heart, kidney or any other organ transplant. Sadly, more than 6,500 people in a year die before that organ becomes available for them.
Choosing to share the gift of your life to help other people in need is possibly one of the most apical expressions of compassion and generosity. Unfortunately, Organ donors are always scanty in number. There are far more people in need of an organ transplant than there are willing to donate an organ. In fact, most donors only donate a lung or kidney when asked to do so for a family member or for a loved one in their lives.
However, this is not the case for most cancer patients and cancer survivors. Many cancer survivors wish to help other people in need by becoming organ donors. If you are wondering if it’s possible for a cancer survivor to be an organ donor, the answer is YES. However, it varies by the cancer type and medical condition (more information on this below). As a matter of fact, organ donations from patients who have had cancer are becoming increasingly common, says the body overseeing organ donations in the United States and the United Kingdom
The following information is aimed to shed a light on this topic and help you understand all the basic information about organ donations from cancer patients. And it also looks deeper at what kind of organs cancer patients can be allowed to donate as well as address all the common questions people have concerning cancer patients donating organs.
An organ transplant is an operation that takes a solid body organ (like a kidney, liver or heart) from one person and gives it to another. There are mainly 2 types of organ donors – deceased donors and living donors. Generally, Living donors can donate a solid organ in their body including a piece of the liver, lung, pancreas, kidney or bowel. On the other hand, deceased donors are eligible to donate just about any part of their body including major organs, bones, tissues as well as their eyes.
A few years back, it was a general rule that cancer patients and survivors were not eligible to be living donors. However, this trend has changed with the advent of technology in the world. Now, cancer patients are eligible for both living donors and deceased donors as well. Of course, depending on their cancer type, the number of years they have been cancer-free, the type of organ they wish to donate and whether their cancer the cancer is spreading from where it metastasized.
As with any donor, the living or deceased, each case will be reviewed prior to donation so as to verify the donor’s state of health and ensure they are eligible for donation with no possibility of foreseeable complications.
At what age can one donate?
A cancer patient willing to donate an organ has the right to do it at any age they wish to. However, anyone younger than 18 years of age needs to have the consent of a guardian or parent.
Can a donated organ give someone cancer?
A frequent concern is whether a transplant from a cancer survivor or a cancer patient can spread cancer. The risk of passing cancer on to another person has been reported to be very minimal, however, there have been some few reports in the medical literature of this happening. This may be partly because organ recipients are usually given drug injections to suppress their immune systems so as to avoid and prevent the rejection of the transplant. In some cases, this could render the immune system ineffective when it comes to identifying and killing the cancer cells that come with the organ.
According to a study conducted by UNOS, there may be an acceptable risk in using organs from cancer patient donors who have had a certain type of cancer. This is particularly true if there has been a long cancer-free interval such as 5 years before the organ donation and also if cancer in a cancer patient has not spread in the past 12 months.
The Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues, and Organs delivered revised guidelines in April 2014. Here is basic information about organ donations from cancer patients concerning the types of cancer that the Medical Committee consider high risk for the transfer of cancer to the recipient.
- Kidney Cancer
- Lung Cancer
- Small Cell neuroendocrine tumor
- Breast Cancer
- Bowel Cancer
In some other types of cancer, cancer patients may not qualify to be living donors as a result of some of their medical conditions. But some may still have some organs and body tissues they could beneficially be used after they die. In such cases, doctors consider each case differently after the potential donor has passed on and made a decision to use all or some of the person’s organs or tissue are applicable for transplant, as long as the deceased family agrees that it was the deceased wish to donate.
What are some of the acceptable Organ donors for Cancer patients?
In a study conducted in the UK of nearly 500 organ recipients from cancer patients that were not spreading, none of them got cancer from any patient with brain cancer.
In the case of an actively spreading cancer, from where it started (metastasized), internal organs cannot be transplanted, none the less, cancer patients can still donate other tissues like tendon, bone marrow, bones and the skin.
Other than that, even if other organs and tissues can’t be used, donating your corneas is one way to offer help to sight-saving transplants. Almost anyone with cancer (except those with Eye malignancies and positive cases of blood or eye cancers as well as any other eye conditions) can donate their corneas. What most people don’t realize is that donating one of your corneas can help save someone’s sight and restore their sight.
If you are a cancer patient and you would wish to donate any of your solid organs, sign up as a donor. Ensure that you let your family and beloved ones know of your wishes, as they may be asked to give consent. Truth be told, choosing to be an organ donor is an admirable act of nobility and compassion that deserves an exceptional show of gratitude.