A team of doctors have reported an unusual and tragic case in which three transplant patients died from breast cancer after contracting it from one single donor.
The Independent reports that the organ donor was a 53-year-old woman, who had suffered a stroke in 2007. After her death, her kidneys, lungs, liver and heart were donated to five people - but at this point, doctors were unaware of her diagnosis, meaning that four of the patients then contracted 'donor derived' aggressive breast cancers.
A fifth person then died just five months after receiving a heart transplant. They had contracted sepsis, which is when the immune system beings to attack the body after detecting either a serious infection of a foreign organ.
The first patient to become ill was a 42-year-old woman. She had received a double lung transplant, but her condition had begun to spread to her bones by the time she was diagnosed - and she eventually passed away in 2009.
At this point, doctors warned the other patients - testing the man and the woman who had each received a kidney from the donor, who only began to show signs of the disease years later.
The women who had received a kidney and another woman who was the recipient of the liver also died after their cancers spread, while the man who had to have his kidney removed after doctors detected a tumour in 2011 is still cancer free.
He had undergone chemotherapy, and also stopped the immune system-suppressing drugs - which are taken by transplant recipients to prevent their organs being rejected.
The recipient of the liver, a 59-year-old woman, decided not to have her organ removed when her tumour was first discovered, as she worried about further complications.
According to experts, there is approximately a one in 10,000 chance of screening tests that check for donor suitability failing in such a way, leading to the transplant of an infected organ.
Dr Yvette Matser, who is from VU University Medical Center in The Netherlands and was lead author of the report in the American Journal of Transplantation, said: "The extremely low rate of transmission of malignancies during transplantation proves the efficiency of the current guidelines."
The authors 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."
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