For a person with failing kidneys, receiving a transplanted kidney can be a lifesaver. But in rare cases, the transplanted organ may pass on cancer to the recipient. Wisconsin researchers report that a transplant recipient whose donor had previously had lung cancer developed cancer herself several years after her transplant.
The woman has made a full recovery, but her case underscores the importance of closely following patients after organ transplantation, according to researchers led by Dr. Sigurdur Bodvarsson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Analysis of the cancer cells and the patient's normal tissue indicated that the cancer had its start in the donated organ. The relative who had donated the kidney had been diagnosed with small cell carcinoma of the lung nearly 2 years before donating a kidney.
People who receive an organ transplant are known to have an increased risk of several types of cancer, including Kaposi sarcoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and non-melanoma skin cancers. The inability to fight off cancer-causing viruses due to a suppressed immune system as well as the effects of anti-rejection drugs are thought to account for some of this increased cancer risk.