I've Had Cancer, Can I Still Be an Organ and Tissue Donor?

Published February 23, 2023 in Blog

One of the most common questions asked in the organ and tissue donation community is, “if I’ve had cancer, can I still be an organ and tissue donor?” If you are a cancer survivor, it may be tempting to rule yourself out from registering based on your medical history. The quick answer is don’t! You should never rule yourself out from potentially saving and healing lives as your legacy.


Potential donors go through a sophisticated screening process

Whether or not a person has a history of cancer, each organ or tissue donation is carefully reviewed by a team of medical professionals at the time of death. Biopsies are performed on any unexpected findings, and decisions are made on a case-by-case basis as part of a rigorous screening process.

Typically the guidelines shared by organ procurement organizations (OPOs), which facilitate every organ transplant in the United States, do not recommend accepting organs from people with “actively spreading cancer.”

Patients who suffered from leukemia, lymphoma including Hodgkin’s Disease, myeloma and other cancers of the blood are not eligible to donate. However, patients with a history of many other types of cancers that received successful treatment are considered eligible for organ donation provided the organs did not sustain any damage from prior cancer treatment. Typically, organ donation requires that patients were cancer-free for several years at the time of death, but lower risk precancerous conditions and squamous or basal cell skin cancers may have a shorter time requirement.

Things can change in the transplantation field where medical breakthroughs are common. Registering to be a donor today may not be something that is fulfilled until decades to come, by which time further medical advances may have happened.   


Don’t rule yourself out as a potential organ or tissue donor

Even though there may be scenarios where you’re unable to donate as a cancer survivor, very few medical conditions automatically disqualify you from donating. Certain organs may not be suitable for transplantation but other tissues could be used to save and heal lives.

While we most often hear about solid organ transplants like kidney, heart, or lung transplants, many patients are in need of tissue, tendon, cornea, skin, bone, or vein donations. For example, skin can be used to help burn victims survive and recover. One tissue donor can give life, sight, and health to more than 75 people.

Even if a medical team has determined that someone with a history of cancer is not eligible for an organ and tissue donation, in almost every scenario, corneas can still be donated. That means it’s still possible to pass on the gift of sight to up to two people.


Bringing hope to the next million

Thanks to continuous research and medical advancements, the number of people transplanted continues to grow. In a historic milestone, the U.S. achieved its 1 millionth organ transplant in 2022, which is more than any country in the world.

If you have had cancer, you know better than anyone how powerful it is to hear the news that your health journey has taken a positive turn. Consider being a part of that moment for someone in need. No matter your health condition, everyone can register to be an organ, eye, and tissue donor. By registering as an organ or tissue donor, you can bring hope to patients and families who are holding out for a miracle.