Three of the patients have since died. 

By Julie Mazziotta
September 20, 2018
Getty

Four people developed breast cancer years after getting organs from the same donor in an “extremely rare” case, according to new research.

A 53-year-old organ donor died of a stroke in 2007. The donor’s kidneys, lungs, liver and heart were given to four patients after extensive testing. The tests, conducted after the donor’s death, did not find any evidence of breast cancer.

However, of the four patients, all of whom were European, three have since died of breast cancer.

One remaining patient made it through breast cancer treatments, preventing the disease from metastasizing to the rest of the body. The patient had the transplanted kidney removed and then underwent chemotherapy, and also stopped taking immunosuppression medication, which transplant patients need so the body does not reject the new organ.

One of the study authors, Dr. Frederike Bemelman, professor of nephrology at the University of Amsterdam, had treated the surviving patient, and wrote in the paper that removing their transplanted organ was key.

“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 research authors stressed, though, that this is exceedingly unusual, and people should not worry that transplanted organs are unsafe.

Bemelman said that this was the first time she’s seen a transplant lead to cancer after 20 years working in transplantation research.

“There’s always a small risk,” she wrote in the paper, according to CNN. “Even if you undergo a simple gallbladder procedure, you also have a small chance of something happening to you during the procedure.”

But that should not stop people from going through with transplants, she continued.

“The advantages of organ transplantation far outweigh these small risks,” Bemelman said. “People should not be worried.”

Advertisement