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This article is from the WebMD News Archive

Skin cancer risk after organ transplants

By
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith
senior woman thinking

14th August 2015 -- People who have an organ transplant may be at a higher risk of developing melanoma skin cancer, according to a new US study.

Doctors say drugs taken to suppress the immune system to prevent organ rejection may be to blame.

The findings mean transplant patients may be advised to take extra care to avoid unnecessary exposure to the sun, especially in the first 4 years after their operation.

US data

Researchers analysed data from the medical records of 139,991 people in the US who had organ transplants between 1987 and 2010. However, the records only covered white non-Hispanic patients.

Transplant patients were seen to be more likely to develop melanoma compared to people who didn’t have transplants.

Late-stage tumours that are harder to treat were also more common.

In a separate assessment among people with melanoma, transplant patients were three times more likely to die from the cancer than non-transplant patients.

Reducing risk

Writing in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, the researchers say that drugs to suppress the immune system, which patients need to take after a transplant, may increase melanoma incidence and aggressive behaviour. The figures may also be partly explained by transplant patients being more likely to visit hospital and have skin cancer diagnosed and recorded in official data.

However, the authors say transplant patients should be encouraged to minimise unnecessary ultraviolet radiation exposure and practice safe-sun behaviour, such as covering-up and using appropriate sun protection.

Although they say more research is needed to understand the risks and reasons for the additional melanoma risk, they say physicians should consider carrying out skin checks for cancer in the first 4 years after the operation.

Reviewed on August 14, 2015

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