Ask the Organ Donor Expert – Cancer Patients

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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8 Responses to Ask the Organ Donor Expert – Cancer Patients

  1. Colette says:

    Thanks for clarifying this issue,Dave. I get questions regarding the possibilities or restrictions to donation from a cancer patient on a regular basis- when doing registration drives on campus. I have simply told potential “registerees” to let the doctors decide at the time of death. Good to know the facts! (and that I was right also =)

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  3. Lorie says:, how do you do it?

  4. Felix says:

    This is the main reason I like Nice posts.

  5. […] Ask the Organ Donor Expert – Cancer Patients February 2009 4 comments 4 […]

  6. Julie says:

    An interesting thought: People who have had cancer are not a rule-out for whole body donation. Typically anyone who is unable to donate their organs is still able to donate their body for medical research and education.

    I actually work for a whole body donation program, Science Care ( Being in this industry, I can tell you that donation is an absolutely amazing gift and we are so grateful for the people who donate so generously. It is so helpful to future generations of doctors and researchers. Just make sure you do your research. Accreditation is the only way to know that the whole body donation program you are working with is reputable and ethical. Research any program you are interested in on the American Association of Tissue Banks website (

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