Organ transplants: Hundreds helped by former cancer patients

Image source, SPL

Hundreds of people in the UK have received an organ transplant from someone with a history of cancer, despite many believing you cannot donate if you have had the disease.

A total of 272 organ donors across the UK in the past five years had a history of cancer, according to data obtained by the Press Association.

Their donations resulted in 675 people receiving a transplant.

Eye donation is one key area where such donors have been able to help.

The figures from NHS Blood and Transplant also showed that 1,033 people who had suffered from some types of cancer went on to donate their eyes - but not other organs.

Officials say there is a "common misconception" that people cannot be organ donors if they have had cancer, but there are some circumstances where it is possible.

The Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs has said the "risks of cancer transmission must be balanced against the risks of dying without transplantation".

"Organs from deceased donors with some cancers may be safely used for transplantation."

The risk of donor-transmitted cancer in the UK is currently assessed as 0.06%.

Minimise the risks

Prof John Forsythe, associate medical director for organ donation and transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said people should not let a health condition or previous illness stop them from registering as a donor.

"We are very keen that everyone, regardless of their health status, registers a decision to donate and tells their family they want to donate.

"We work hard to minimise the risks to recipients by carefully evaluating all potential organ and tissue donors."

Image source, Thinkstock
Image caption,
Cornea transplants can restore sight in recipients

About 70 cornea donations a week are needed to meet the demand for sight-saving transplants.

But one in 10 people on the NHS Organ Donor Register do not want to donate their eyes.

Successful procedure

Aspiring midwife Alison Cooney died in 2010 aged 28, only six weeks after she was diagnosed with bowel and liver cancer.

Her mother, Ann Cooney, from Alkrington, Greater Manchester, agreed to the donation of her corneas, which helped save the sight of two people.

"Her major organs could not be donated, because of the aggressive nature of her illness, but her eyes could be used," she said.

"Apparently not many people donate their eyes, although it is one of the most successful procedures.

"Even though initially it was very difficult to accept what was about to happen, it wasn't about us, and we had to focus on something good being achieved from something bad."

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