Cancer and Blood or Organ Donation

Author: OncoLink Team
Last Reviewed: August 7, 2019

Question:

Can a cancer survivor be a blood or organ donor?

Answer:

Thank you for your question and willingness of sharing the gift of your life to help other people in need. Your generosity is encouraging to other people in support of blood, organ and tissue donation as one of the highest expressions of compassion and generosity.

The criteria for blood and organ donation differ, so let’s look at each:

Blood Donation

The eligibility to donate blood depends on the type of cancer and treatment history. If you had leukemia or lymphoma, including Hodgkin’s Disease, myeloma and other cancers of the blood, you are not eligible to donate as these are cancers found in the blood. A history of other types of cancer are allowed if the cancer has been treated successfully, it has been more than 12 months since treatment was completed and there has been no cancer recurrence in this time. Lower risk pre-cancerous conditions or in-situ cancers, including squamous or basal cell cancers of the skin that have been completely removed do not require a 12-month waiting period. You should discuss your particular situation with the health historian at the time of donation or call the Red Cross.

Organ Donation

There are 2 types of organ donors – living donors and deceased donors. Living donors can donate a kidney or a piece of the liver, pancreas, lung, or bowel. Deceased donors can donate just about any part of the body, including organs, tissue, bone and eyes.

As a general rule, cancer survivors are not eligible to be living donors. However, the transplant team may review, on a case-by-case basis, and determine that the donor is cancer-free, that the needed organs have not sustained damage from prior cancer treatment, and that there is unlikely to be further organ damage where the person would need that donated organ. Studies have looked at brain tumor survivors specifically and when the tumor was confined to the brain and successfully treated, they could later donate without any risk to the recipient. For living donors, one of the main concerns for the transplant team is the effect this donation will have on the donor (physically, mentally and financially). For instance, what is the chance you will need both of your kidneys and is the risk of donating one too great?

As with any deceased donor (cancer history or not), each case would be reviewed at the time of death. Depending on the cancer type, remission status, and the function of the organs, some or all may be able to be used. In addition to organs, donation from a deceased donor can include parts of the eyes, skin, bone, veins, and heart valves. To be considered for organ donation, you should register in your state and discuss your wishes with your family. In all cases, the family or next of kin will need to agree to the donation even if you have registered with your state to donate. This is why it is so important to discuss your wishes with your family.

To learn more about organ donation, visit the US Department of Health & Human Services.

Of note, there are a few cancer medications that specifically say to not donate blood or sperm for a period after taking them. This information should appear in the instructions you receive with the medicine. Some examples include thalidomide, pomalidomide and lenalidomide.

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