Data Shows Organ Transplants are a Viable Option for Pediatric Cancer Patients

Access to reliable data is critical for any medical provider’s decision but especially for an organ transplant. A study published August 27 in Lancet Oncology looked at organ transplantation (kidney, heart, liver or lung) in five-year survivors of childhood pediatric cancer patients in the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study (CCSS). The CCSS originated at the University of Minnesota Medical School and includes over 13,000 survivors diagnosed from 1970 through 1986. This particular study looked at the incidence of, risks for, and survival following kidney, heart, lung and liver transplants.

Previously, there was no data other than case reports or series about organ transplants in pediatric cancer survivors. There wasn’t even a way to assess which children with a history of cancer developed organ failure that warranted a transplant, whether they went on a waiting list for a transplant and never received one, or if they did receive an organ transplant. There was also no data about how they did following a transplant.

Dr. Amanda Termuhlen, lead researcher, pediatric hematologist-oncologist and Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs for the U of M Medical School, Dr. Andrew Dietz, who was a former U of M Medical School Pediatric Oncology Fellow, and a team of CCSS researchers created a link between the study and the United Network for Organ Sharing, the database for all organ transplants in the US since 1987. One of the study’s goals was to collect information about medical treatment and long-term outcomes for children that were treated for cancer. Through the data link, they found that only 103 transplants (meaning each individual organ) occurred in 100 patients out of 13,318 survivors, a very low percentage of organ transplants.

Researchers were then able to identify who was waitlisted, who received transplants and what were the subsequent results. Survival outcomes for pediatric cancer patients after transplant were very promising and appeared similar to general outcomes for kidney and heart transplants. These data points showed that organ transplantation was a suitable option for the rare survivors that developed organ damage from treatment of childhood cancer.

“This study demonstrated that survivors of pediatric cancer diagnosed from 1970 to 1986 needed very few organ transplants, and many were successful. For the patients treated for pediatric cancer since 1986, there will likely be fewer that need to go onto a transplant waiting list or to receive an organ transplant because we are continually feeding back information that we get from our long-term follow-up with patients to our front line therapies,” stated Termuhlen.

Termuhlen hopes that this study will inform transplant surgeons and insurance companies that organ transplants are a viable option in children that are successfully treated for childhood cancer.