Although the researchers did not specifically study cause of death, complications from kidney removal could include major bleeding, reactions to anesthesia or blood clots, similar to those that could occur with any surgery, Segev said.
Men had higher surgical mortality than women, and blacks were more likely to die than whites or Hispanics, as were donors with high blood pressure.
"There is a three in 10,000 chance you will die from the operation. That is a real risk," Segev said. "While the risk is not zero, it happens to be one of the safest operations you can ever possibly have."
For comparison, the risk of death following gallbladder removal, also considered to be among the safest operations, is 18 per 10,000.
One year following the donation, the risk of death among those who donated was the same as those who didn't donate. And beyond that, donors had a similar -- and even a bit lower -- risk of dying as those who didn't donate. Five years out, the risk of death was 0.4 per 10,000 donors and 0.9 per 10,000 non-donors. Twelve years out, the risk of dying was 1.5 per 10,000 donors and 2.9 per 10,000 non-donors, according to the report.
There are two possible reasons why some people with one kidney may live longer than those with two, said Dr. Matthew Cooper, chairman of the UNOS living donor committee and director of kidney transplant and clinical research at University of Maryland School of Medicine.
One explanation is that those who donate, knowing they have only one kidney, see a doctor more frequently and take better care of themselves. Another possibility is that donors go through a rigorous screening process, which may mean healthier people are selected to begin with, Cooper explained.
"This study reaffirms what many of us
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