Organ donors with a history of cancer have given hundreds of UK patients transplants

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Hundreds of people across the UK have received an organ transplant from someone with a history of cancer, new figures show.

In the five years to March 31, 272 organ donors across the UK had a history of cancer or malignancy. Their donations gave 675 people organ transplants.

There is a common misconception that people cannot be organ donors if they have had cancer, but there are some circumstances where it is possible.

Guidance from the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs states: “Risks of cancer transmission must be balanced against the risks of dying without transplantation.”

The figures, from NHS Blood and Transplant, also show that, over the last five years, more than 1,000 people who had suffered from some types of cancer went on to donate their eyes – but not their other organs.

Eye donation is one of the areas health officials are highlighting as some potential organ donors opt not to donate their corneas.

NHS Blood and Transplant needs around 70 cornea donations a week to meet the demand for sight-saving transplants but one in 10 people on the NHS Organ Donor Register do not want to donate their eyes.

The mother of aspiring midwife Alison Cooney, from Alkrington, Greater Manchester, is trying to highlight the importance of cornea donation after her daughter’s eyes saved the sight of two people.

Ann Cooney, whose daughter died from bowel and liver cancer at the age of just 28 in 2010, asked to speak to a donor nurse after her daughter died as she carried a donor card.

“Her major organs could not be donated, because of the aggressive nature of her illness, but her eyes could be used,” Mrs Cooney said. “It seemed very appropriate that she should mention eyes, because Alison had the most beautiful eyes, and was always being complimented about them.”

Mrs Cooney added: “Even though initially it was very difficult to accept what was about to happen, it wasn’t about us, and we had to focus on something good being achieved from something bad.”

Associate medical director for organ donation and transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, Professor John Forsythe, said: “We are very keen that everyone, regardless of their health status, registers a decision to donate.”

To join the NHS Organ Donor Register visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk.