Receiving a new organ via transplant should give most people a second chance at life, but one woman has been handed a “death sentence” after she developed cancer from an organ she received.
Scottish woman Pauline Hunt, 49, received a kidney transplant last December but developed cancer 10 weeks after her transplant, according to the BBC. She is now calling for an inquiry after developing cancer of the lymph nodes and being told by doctors that her new kidney would have to be removed.
It followed the death of a man from Newcastle who received a liver from the same donor. He passed away after also developing cancer.
“It was like a death sentence,” Hunt told the BBC. “I don’t know how long I have got. I have caught cancer from a donor who should have been so healthy that this shouldn’t have happened.”
Hunt now requires daily injections to prevent blood clots and requires dialysis three times a week since her donated kidney was removed, The Times reported.
According to the medical director for organ donation and transplant at NHS Blood and Transplant, an investigation was carried out and found that all processes had been followed during the transplant. John Forsythe told the BBC that all potential donors have their medical history checked and that tests, such as biopsies, are carried out if abnormalities are found.
“In very rare cases it is possible that the donor has a very small tumour which cannot be picked up by the tests which can be performed in the limited time available prior to transplant,” he said. “This means the transmission of an undiagnosed cancer is a known risk, although thankfully it is very rare.”
It follows a case report published in the American Journal of Transplantation in April which found four European patients developed breast cancer after receiving organs from the same donor. While the patients were diagnosed with cancer years after their transplants, three died as a result of the cancer.
The surviving patient had to have her donated kidney removed and underwent chemotherapy, according to CNN. The study’s author Frederike Bemelman explained it was an “extremely rare” case and it was the first they’d experienced in 20 years in the field of transplantation immunology.
While worrying, experts have warned the advantages of organ transplants often outweigh the risks. Bemelman said the risk of transmitting tumours is between 0.01 per cent and 0.05 per cent for each organ transplant.