In a rare case, three people die of cancer after 'contracting' it from same female organ donor leaving medical community stunned

Experts have said that the odds of contracting cancer from even a single transplant is as small as 1 in 10,000 cases


                            In a rare case, three people die of cancer after 'contracting' it from same female organ donor leaving medical community stunned

An "extraordinary" case report has revealed that three people died of breast cancer after they all received organs from the same donor. The donor, a 53-year-old woman, had died of a stroke in 2007 and had donated her kidneys, lungs, liver, and heart to patients who needed transplants.

However, it was revealed that within six years of the organs being transplanted, four out of five of the recipients died. While the heart patient died of sepsis, the other four recipients developed breast cancer from the donated organs, and only one of them survived. The cancer had not been noticed by doctors before the organs were transplanted. The disease secretly entered their otherwise healthy bodies and caused the cancer to proliferate.

Experts have said that the odds of contracting cancer from even a single transplant is as small as 1 in 10,000 cases and they believe that this is the first time that a patient has passed the deadly disease on to four recipients. It has also never been observed to take this long for any tumors to develop in the body, reported the Daily Mail.

The organ donor had died of a stroke after contracting sepsis (Source: Pixabay)
The organ donor had died of a stroke after contracting sepsis (Source: Pixabay)

Research that was conducted by scientists at the University of Tübingen in Germany and the VU University Medical Center in the Amsterdam, has revealed that the bizarre incident began six years after the organ donor passed away. Experts have said that the donor screenings definitely work well enough and that there is a 0.01 to 0.05% chance of contracting the deadly disease from any organ that is donated.

The first person who had been diagnosed with breast cancer was a 42-year-old woman who had received both the lungs of the donor for a transplant. She had to be rushed to the hospital less than a year-and-a-half after the transplant because the lungs were not working properly. The doctors in the hospital then found out that she had breast cancer which had started from the lungs that she received. The cancer spread to her bones and it eventually reached her liver after which she died in August 2009. 

The fatal disease is still called breast cancer even when it is in other areas of the body because the tumors consist of cells that are specific to the original cancer that had started in the breast tissue and then spread to other parts of the body. Medics were able to prove that the disease came from the donor after they conducted a DNA test. 

After the news about the recipient who got the lungs dying got out, the 62-year-old woman who got the donor's left kidney and the 32-year-old man who got the right kidney were both warned about the possibility of cancer. Tests were immediately conducted on both of them but no signs of the disease were found initially. In 2011, however, the man was diagnosed with cancer in his kidney and the woman was diagnosed five years after.

The man then had the transplanted kidney removed and went through chemotherapy for a year. He has been cancer-free since 2012. Sadly, the woman's cancer, which had first been detected in her liver, spread to her kidney, then her bones, spleen, and other digestive tract organs. He treatment was then withdrawn and she died only two months after she was diagnosed with the disease. 

The fourth patient, a 59-year-old woman, received the donor's liver after her own was damaged by cirrhosis. She subsequently got diagnosed with cancer after a tumor was detected in 2011 but the woman was adamant about not removing it. She feared that she would have complications similar to those she experienced when after her first operation in 2007. The researchers said that she "felt well" and that the treatment had somehow stabilized the disease. The cancer, however, started spreading in 2014 and she refused any more treatment before dying.

The final patient decided not to continue with the treatment when the cancer started spreading in 2014 (Source: Pexels)
The final patient decided not to continue with the treatment when the cancer started spreading in 2014 (Source: Pexels)

The authors of the study, led by Yvette Matser, wrote in the paper: "The drawback of a routine postmortem CT scan for all donors is that it will increase clinically irrelevant findings, which might lead to more rejection of donors and a decrease of the already scarce donor pool. The extremely low rate of transmission of malignancies during transplantation proves the efficiency of the current guidelines. A complete medical examination, including a breast examination, should always be performed as described in the guidelines of the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network."

They added: "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 findings were published in the American Journal of Transplantation.