Nearly 700 people received transplants as a result of organ donations from 272 donors with a history of cancer, according to figures obtained by the Press Association. Donations made by cancer patients were particularly helpful for sight-saving cornea transplants.
With only 2,881 registered cornea donors, according to NHS statistics, and 3,731 cornea transplants taking place between 1 April 2015 and 31 March 2016, eye donors are particularly sought after by the NHS blood and transplant services. A campaign was launched by Moorfields Eye Hospital in 2014 to encourage more eye donations, with only one-in-10 registered organ donors opting to donate their eyes.
Professor John Forsythe, associate medical director for organ donation and transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: "Please don't let the fact you have a health condition or have had an illness in the past stop you from registering as a donor."
Though many people believe it is not possible to donate organs if they have cancer or have a history of the illness, a 2014 report by the UK Government's Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood Tissues and Organs said: "Organs from deceased donors with some cancers may be safely used for transplantation. On the basis of the current evidence, it is recommended that organs from deceased donors with some current and past cancers may be safely used."
The report recommended that the risks of donor-transmitted cancer – which are estimated to be minimal at around 0.06% – should be balanced against the risks of the patient dying without treatment.
Professor Forsythe added: "We work hard to minimise the risks to recipients by carefully evaluating all potential organ and tissue donors.
"What many people don't realise is that you could potentially donate your corneas and help save someone's sight, even if certain cancers are a cause of your death.
"Please agree to cornea donation too when you register to donate your organs – you could end up saving someone's sight even if you can't donate your organs when you die."
As the number of registered organ donors dropped for the first time in over a decade last year, the NHS said that the consent rate for organ donations remained at uless than 60%.
According to the NHS' Blood and Transplant website, there are currently more than 7,000 people on the UK national transplant waiting list, and more than 1,300 people either died whilst on the waiting list or became too sick to receive a transplant, in the last year for which figures were available.