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Ask the Organ Donor Expert - Cancer Patients

Posted Feb 18 2009 11:58am

As part of our Ask the Organ Donor Expert series, we want to address the crucial topic below of organ donation and cancer patients. We turn to Dave Bosch, director of communications at Gift of Hope to address the question below.


Q:How does Illinois work in terms of organ donation from cancer patients?

I know every state is different. For example, my brother passed with a primary brain tumor in the state of Florida. He was brain dead on life support and we thought we could donate his heart, lungs,  kidneys, etc. as they were healthy with no signs of cancer. The only cancer was in his brain. However, the state of Florida doesn’t allow this. They did however, take bone, viens, corenas, tendons, etc.

Therefore, what is the law in Illinois for cancer patients?


Dave Bosch

Dave Bosch

A: Thanks Kimberly for the fantastic question.

While Illinois state law does not dictate under which mechanism of death a person can or cannot donate, patients with active cancer are ruled out for organ and tissue donation. Corneas can be recovered from patients with cancer, except for leukemia.

Organs, but not tissue, can be recovered from patients with primary brain tumors. On a more technical note, in the suggested case of a “primary brain tumor,” meaning no metastasis to other organs and it is not a high grade brain tumor – for example, Grade IV - the primary brain tumor needs to be identified by biopsy and the patient can not have a VP shunt in place.  This being that the shunt can carry potential cancer cells to other parts of the body.

Both organs and tissue can be recovered from patients with a history of cancer, as long as they have been in remission for at least 5 years.

The best thing Illinoisans can do is register their decision to donate now, regardless of their current health conditions, and allow the medical professionals make the determination of eligibility at the appropriate time.


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