Organ Transplant Recipients Face High Rates of Skin Cancer

human-organIt’s an out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire situation. The very drugs (immunosuppressive medications) organ transplant recipients take so their new organs will not be rejected by their body place them at high risk to develop skin cancer (melanoma).

According to a new study published in JAMA Dermatology,, scientists discovered risk for squamous-cell carcinoma (of the skin) at levels of 65% to a whopping 250% times higher than non-organ transplant recipients. The increased risk is not the sole providence of Caucasians but distributed across all ethnic groups.

Squamous-cell carcinoma is one of the most common types of skin cancer, notable for the uncontrollable growth of cancer cells in the “squamous” cell.
A squamous or “epithelial” cell is basically your skin. The outermost layer of your skin is made up of thin, flat cells called squamous epithetical cells. It is typically tied to exposure to sunlight.

Scientists discovered that organ transplant recipients statistically are more likely to develop skin cancers that are more aggressive and fatal due to the chronic use of immunosuppressive drugs used to prevent organ rejection. It is being suggested that aftercare for organ transplant recipients include comprehensive skin cancer screenings.

Across all medical disciplines involving transplantation and the admiration of immunosuppressive drugs, there are considerations for having the patient examined in a dermatological setting where the dermatologist is aware of the patients transplanted organ and alerts for signs of cancer by utilizing a baseline total body skin examination.

Debunking a common misconception that Non-Caucasians (Asian-African-Hispanic) do not “get” skin cancer – the study showed Non-Caucasian patients are also at risk when it comes to developing skin cancer in a post-transplantation setting.

At a study conducted at the Drexel Dermatological Center for Transplant Patients, scientists reviewed the records of over 400 individuals who had received an organ transplant. 63% of these individuals were non-Caucasian, and of that 63%, 15 of them developed 19 forms of new skin cancer. Skin cancer in Asians was found in areas exposed to sunlight, while Hispanics had skin cancer manifested on their lower legs as well as areas exposed to sunlight. African-Americans, though, had skin cancer manifest in the groin and genital area with lesions that tested positive for HPV (Human Papillomavirus).

The equalizing factor between all races is that post-transplantation care involved taking immunosuppressive drugs opens them up to the same risk factors across the board. Thus regardless of race the same precautions need to be taken by organ transplant recipients of all races — no matter skin type, tone, or family history.

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