Vincent Liew died seven months after receiving kidney transplant.  The donor had uterine cancer.
Getting cancer from a donated organ is extremely rare. A 2008 study of 230,000 transplants by the United Network for Organ Sharing discovered 64 instances - far less than 1% - in which cancer from the donor was passed to a recipient.

To prevent that from happening, cancer patients - like people with HIV and other infectious diseases - are weeded out as potential organ donors.

"We don't take organs from people who are dying of cancer," UNOS spokeswoman Anne Paschke said.

Doctors can screen donations for infectious diseases but there is generally no time to screen a specific organ for cancer, Paschke said.

"Mostly it's a time factor," she said. "When somebody dies, time is of the essence, and you have to transplant while the organ is still viable."

Paschke said they question the next of kin about the dead person's medical history before taking an organ.

"If they have a cancer that hasn't shown up, it's almost impossible to know it's there in the donated organ," she said.

Organ donation has saved thousands of lives, but like any medical procedure, it's not risk-free, Paschke said.

"You can't rule out disease transmission, but you have to weigh it against the lifesaving good," she said.


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