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Organ Transplants From Deceased Donors With Primary Brain Tumors and Risk of Cancer Transmission

Lookup NU author(s): Gillian Hardman, Professor John Dark



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Importance: Cancer transmission is a known risk for recipients of organ transplants. Many people wait a long time for a suitable transplant; some never receive one. Although patients with brain tumors may donate their organs, opinions vary on the risks involved. Objective: To determine the risk of cancer transmission associated with organ transplants from deceased donors with primary brain tumors. Key secondary objectives were to investigate the association that donor brain tumors have with organ usage and posttransplant survival. Design, Setting, and Participants: This was a cohort study in England and Scotland, conducted from January 1, 2000, to December 31, 2016, with follow-up to December 31, 2020. This study used linked data on deceased donors and solid organ transplant recipients with valid national patient identifier numbers from the UK Transplant Registry, the National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service (England), and the Scottish Cancer Registry. For secondary analyses, comparators were matched on factors that may influence the likelihood of organ usage or transplant failure. Statistical analysis of study data took place from October 1, 2021, to May 31, 2022. Exposures: A history of primary brain tumor in the organ donor, identified from all 3 data sources using disease codes. Main Outcomes and Measures: Transmission of brain tumor from the organ donor into the transplant recipient. Secondary outcomes were organ utilization (ie, transplant of an offered organ) and survival of kidney, liver, heart, and lung transplants and their recipients. Key covariates in donors with brain tumors were tumor grade and treatment history. Results: This study included a total of 282 donors (median [IQR] age, 42 [33-54] years; 154 females [55%]) with primary brain tumors and 887 transplants from them, 778 (88%) of which were analyzed for the primary outcome. There were 262 transplants from donors with high-grade tumors and 494 from donors with prior neurosurgical intervention or radiotherapy. Median (IQR) recipient age was 48 (35-58) years, and 476 (61%) were male. Among 83 posttransplant malignancies (excluding NMSC) that occurred over a median (IQR) of 6 (3-9) years in 79 recipients of transplants from donors with brain tumors, none were of a histological type matching the donor brain tumor. Transplant survival was equivalent to that of matched controls. Kidney, liver, and lung utilization were lower in donors with high-grade brain tumors compared with matched controls. Conclusions and Relevance: Results of this cohort study suggest that the risk of cancer transmission in transplants from deceased donors with primary brain tumors was lower than previously thought, even in the context of donors that are considered as higher risk. Long-term transplant outcomes are favorable. These results suggest that it may be possible to safely expand organ usage from this donor group.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Greenhall GHB, Rous BA, Robb ML, Brown C, Hardman G, Hilton RM, Neuberger JM, Dark JH, Johnson RJ, Forsythe JLR, Tomlinson LA, Callaghan CJ, Watson CJE

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: JAMA Surgery

Year: 2023

Volume: 158

Issue: 5

Pages: 504-513

Print publication date: 01/05/2023

Online publication date: 22/03/2023

Acceptance date: 29/10/2022

Date deposited: 05/06/2023

ISSN (print): 2168-6254

ISSN (electronic): 2168-6262

Publisher: American Medical Association


DOI: 10.1001/jamasurg.2022.8419

PubMed id: 36947028


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Funder referenceFunder name
BRC 1215 20014
National Institute for Health and Care Research Blood and Transplant Research Unit in Organ Donation and Transplantation
National Institute for Health and Care Research Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre
NHS Blood and Transplant