All four of them received organs from an apparently cancer-free donor, and three of them died—of cancer. In what researchers are calling an "extraordinary case," four organ-recipients from a 53-year-old stroke victim all developed breast cancer, LiveScience reports. A new report says the donor died in 2007, had no other red-flag health issues, and came up negative on multiple cancer tests. But after 16 months, a female lung recipient developed breast cancer that DNA linked to the donor. Doctors warned the others they might be at risk and they took cancer tests that turned up negative. But by 2011, a recipient of the donor's liver was diagnosed with breast cancer and died three years later.
In 2013, a kidney recipient also developed breast cancer cells from the donation and died after only two months. A fourth recipient, who developed cancer in his transplanted kidney in 2011, remains cancer-free after having the kidney removed and undergoing chemotherapy. Developing cancer via organ donation is "a very, very uncommon event," says a New York doctor—like somewhere between 1 in 10,000 and 5 in 10,000, per the report—because all donors are rigorously tested. CT scans might spot more "hidden" cancers, but that would create too many false positives that leave healthy organs unused, per the Independent. In this case, researchers say the donor may have had cancer-cell groups that were too small for imaging or screen tests to detect. (Read more cancer stories.)