The strange case of the 4 patients who developed cancer after receiving organs from the same donor

The strange case of the 4 patients who developed cancer after receiving organs from the same donor


The woman had micrometastasis, which was not detected before performing the transplants.

No organ transplant is free of risks.

However, a case recently published in the journal of the United States Transplant Society, surprised doctors by their results.

It is an extremely rare case in which the organs of a woman, who died in 2007 from a cerebral infarction, “infected” cancer patients who received their organs.

The donor-from whom her lungs, kidneys, liver and heart were removed-had not manifested any signs of this disease.

However, after the transplant four patients developed cancer. Three died. In the fourth, the transplanted organ was removed and he is still alive.

Preparation for a transplant
Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES image
Image caption Experts made it clear that the benefits of a transplant outweigh its risks.

“This is the first case of transmission of breast cancer as a result of a transplant of organs from a single patient affecting four recipients,” say the authors of the study, led by Frederike Bemelman, a transplant specialist at the University’s medical center. Amsterdam, in Holland.

Bemelman highlighted the rarity of the case and emphasized that the benefits of organ transplants far outweigh the risks.


When the 53-year-old donor died, doctors in the Netherlands subjected her body to various routine medical exams to evaluate the possibility of performing transplants.

Nothing indicated the presence of tumor cells , so the transplant of their organs was approved.

Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES image
Image caption The kidney donated to the only patient still alive had to be removed.

However, three recipient patients died (16 months after the operation, another in 2013 and another in 2014) for breast cancer with metastases.

When he was alerted of the situation, the fourth patient had his kidney donated, and after following a medical treatment he is in good health.

But how could the donor pass a disease that she had not suffered?

The study suggests that the donor had micrometastases in the organs she donated. That is, small groups of cancer cells that had spread from their place of origin but were too small to be detected.

As organ recipients take immunosuppressants to prevent rejection of the foreign organ, this may have contributed to the spread of malignant cells with ease.

Benefits greater than the risks

According to experts, the “contagion” of a tumor by a transplant occurs in 5 out of 10,000 such interventions.

In most cases, the available technology can not detect it before donation.

But, as happened with the patient in this case who is alive, if the donated organ is removed and the patient’s immunity is restored, complete remission can be achieved.

“The advantages of organ donation far outweigh these small risks,” said Bemelman.

“People should not worry .”

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