'Tiny cancer' found in body of donor who gave 5 organs

Apparently for 1st time in Israeli transplant history, 4 recipients unintentionally transplanted with organs from donor with malignant tumor.

October 18, 2010 15:50
2 minute read.
Illustrative photo

doctors operation generic 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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The Health Ministry announced on Monday night that doubts had arisen about a report that a deceased organ donor had a cancerous growth in her pancreas that might threaten the four people who received five of her organs.

The ministry said that because of these doubts, biopsy samples of the affected pancreas were sent to additional pathologists in Israel and abroad. The ministry and Israel Transplant said they would continue to follow the matter and would inform the media of new developments.

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It was feared that for the first time since Israel began performing organ transplants over four decades ago, recipients might have received organs from a donor who had a malignant tumor.

The purported tiny cancer tumor – perhaps only a few millimeters in size – would be “impossible to detect” in routine tests, according to Israel Transplant chairman Prof. Rafael Beyar.

The four recipients of the woman’s two lungs, two kidneys and a liver will be followed up so that if in the “unlikely” possibility that they get cancer, it can be treated.

The donor suffered clinical death earlier this month at Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba.

All the routine tests that a potential donor undergoes – including a chest scan and tests for AIDS and infectious hepatitis – were conducted, and nothing untoward was found, Beyar – who is also director-general of Rambam Medical Center in Haifa – told The Jerusalem Post.

But two weeks after the transplants at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem and the Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus in Petah Tikva, a pathology test reported a very small tumor in the pancreas, which was not transplanted because it was inflamed.

“At this stage, the risk of this tumor metastasizing to the other organs that were transplanted is minute, but the recipients have been informed,” Beyar said.

Beyar declared there was no way to detect such a tiny primary tumor in advance. But if the Soroka doctor and Israel Transplant had known the donor might have cancerous tissue, “no organs would have been used for transplant” even though there is a severe shortage of organs and people whose lives are in danger have to wait in a long queue.

The possibility of cancer being found in the body of an organ donor has been reported in medical literature abroad, said Beyar, and there have been a few recipients who developed the cancer themselves, but this is very rare, he said.

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