Being an organ donor is a deeply personal decision that can provide comfort to individuals who donate and their families. And organ and tissue donation is a gift of life to those who receive. In this blog post, we hope to address some common questions about organ donation and cancer and provide insight into the process for those considering donation. So, can cancer patients donate organs? Let’s dive in.

How Does Organ And Tissue Donation Work?

Organ and tissue donation is a powerful act of generosity that saves and improves lives. In North Carolina, the state’s donor registry, HonorBridge, organizes organ and tissue donations.

HonorBridge is a nonprofit organization that connects donors with recipients. They manage the donation process. You can register with HonorBridge online or at your local DMV to donate. Once registered, your information is part of the state donor registry accessed by healthcare professionals.

If a registered donor passes away under certain circumstances, such as in a hospital, medical staff notify HonorBridge. From there, trained medical professionals assess the donor’s medical suitability for donation. They then coordinate the recovery of organs and tissues for transplantation.

The organs and tissues are then transported to recipients in need, often through a complex system of matching and distribution based on medical urgency and compatibility. Thanks to the efforts of organizations like HonorBridge, organ, and tissue donation is a life-changing opportunity and a way for individuals to leave a lasting impact on the world.

Signing Up as An Organ Donor

As of 2021, 95% of Americans favor being a donor, but only 54% of all North Carolina licensed drivers have registered as organ donors at the DMV. The easiest way to close this gap is to register as a donor at the DMV or HonorBridge.

One organ, eye, and tissue donor can save and heal more than 75 lives, and nearly one in 20 Americans will require some tissue transplant! (1)

Can Cancer Patients Participate in Organ Donation Programs?

For those with cancer, donating may be top of mind. After all, most cancer patients know what it feels like to suffer through endless medical treatments and hope to live a whole life again.

However, if you’re a cancer patient or have a history of cancer, you may wonder about your eligibility to donate organs and tissue. Organ donation may be possible depending on the cancer type and medical condition. (1)

Specifically, cancer patients currently in treatment can’t generally donate their organs. However, donors with a brain tumor that hasn’t spread to other body parts can sometimes donate their organs. (1)

Chances of Transmitting Cancer Through Organ Donation are Low

Medical literature shows the chances of transmitting cancer through organ transplantation are low. However, recent cases show that cancer cells can sometimes be passed on to recipients. Because organ and tissue recipients must take immunosuppressive drugs, they can face a higher risk.

This phenomenon happened to a group of individuals who contracted cancer from a single organ donor, with the malignancy spreading to their kidneys, lungs, liver, and heart. The ability of the immune system to recognize and eliminate transplanted cancer cells may be hindered by immunosuppressive drugs. (1)

If your cancer is actively spreading, it’s unlikely that donation organizations will accept your organs for transplants. However, suppose you suffer from a primary brain tumor that has not spread beyond the brain stem. In that case, organ donation organizations may rule the risk of transplanting your organs as an acceptable risk.

According to JAMA, “The 10-year survival of transplants from donors with brain cancer was 65% for single kidney transplants, 69% for liver transplants, 73% for heart transplants, and 46% for lung transplants.”

Each organ procurement agency and the organ recipient decide whether to accept the organs of cancer patients and survivors. For individuals with cancer, becoming a living donor may not be possible due to their medical conditions, such as the inability to donate a kidney or part of their liver. However, there is still the possibility of donating organs and tissues after passing away.

Can Cancer Survivors Donate Organs and Tissues?

According to a study by UNOS, organs from donors who have had specific cancers (such as brain cancer) in the past may bring an acceptable risk to recipients of their organ donations. If you’ve experienced a long cancer-free interval before an organ donation, a donor organization is likelier to consider your organs for donation.

Specific circumstances in an individual’s cancer history may impact their eligibility to donate organs and tissues. The decision of whether or not cancer survivors can donate organs depends on various factors, including the:

  • Type of cancer they had
  • Extent of the cancer
  • Length of time since cancer diagnosis.

Generally speaking, individuals who have had certain types of cancer, such as blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, are not eligible to donate organs or tissues.

However, survivors of other types of cancer may still be able to donate, depending on their specific medical history and circumstances. Ultimately, deciding whether or not a cancer survivor can donate organs or tissues is made on a case-by-case basis in consultation with medical professionals.

It’s important to note that even if you are not eligible to donate organs or tissues, you can still make a significant impact by advocating for donation and encouraging others to consider registering as donors.

You may be able to donate tissues like skin, tendons, and bone even if medical professionals determine organs and tissues are too risky to donate.

Donating corneas is often still a viable option for those who have had cancer. You can learn more about cornea donation from the Eye Bank Association of America.

If you have any questions about organ donation as a cancer survivor or patient, contact Honor Bridge about your desire to donate.

You don’t have to be in perfect health to give the gift of life to another. Many individuals with chronic illnesses or conditions can donate organs. So go ahead and sign up as a donor! The transplant team will carefully look at each donation on a case-by-case basis.

Our Experienced Funeral Home Directors Can Help You Plan

Planning for the future with a preplan can help alleviate some of the stress and burden for loved ones during a difficult time of loss. Our compassionate and experienced team can help you register as an organ donor and ensure your donation decision is correctly documented in your preplan. By making preplan arrangements in advance, you can ensure that your wishes are honored and that your decision to donate can positively impact the lives of others. 

Our team is here to assist you in creating a preplanned funeral arrangement that reflects your values and wishes. Our doors are always open for tours and a look at our state-of-the-art cremation tribute center or chapel. Come by or schedule a time to visit with us and learn more about our services and preplan packages.