If you recently had an organ transplant (or will be getting one soon), then you are likely taking immunosuppressant medications to help ensure your body accepts your new organ. You are likely following many strict health guidelines your doctor gave you to reduce the chances of you developing an infection due to the medications you are taking. However, he or she may not have warned you about the great increase in your risk of developing skin cancer while taking your immunosuppressant medications.
Read on to learn about the prevalence of skin cancer in organ transplant patients and how you can help keep your skin healthy and cancer-free as you begin your new life after your transplant.
Study Shows Increased Skin Cancer Risks in Organ Recipients
A recent study was conducted to determine the prevalence of cancerous and pre-cancerous skin cancer lesions in a group of 289 people with organ transplants who were also taking immunosuppressant medications. Almost 70 percent of Caucasian organ recipients in the study developed at least one of these lesions after their organ transplant, while just over 30 percent of Asians, almost 15 percent of Hispanics, and about 8 percent of African-Americans developed lesions.
The most common type of cancer detected in the group was squamous cell carcinoma. African-Americans in the study often developed the lesions in their groin areas, while those in the other groups developed them primarily on areas of their bodies that they typically exposed to the sun.
Preventing Skin Cancer After an Organ Transplant
Don't let this study make you feel doomed to get skin cancer, but instead use it as motivation to protect your skin from the sun at all times. When possible, avoid being outside during the hours of 11 am and 3 pm when the rays of the sun are strongest. Also, wear a high-SPF sunscreen daily (ask your dermatologist for a recommendation), and make sure you re-apply it every two hours when in the sun.
It is also very important to visit your dermatologist on a regular basis for skin checks to catch any skin cancer lesions in their early stages when they are the most treatable. Set up a skin check schedule with your dermatologist, and be sure to inform them of your recent organ transplant and every medication you are currently taking.
Between visits to the dermatologist, perform regular skin checks on yourself, and look for any changes in your skin texture, along with any new or changing moles on your body. If you do find a change, report it to your dermatologist immediately.
Thankfully, the most common type of cancerous lesion organ transplant recipients develop, squamous cell carcinoma, is easy to treat in its early stages. When caught early enough, it is a great candidate for Mohs surgery; during Mohs surgery, only the top layers of skin that are cancerous are removed.
If you just obtained an organ transplant or will be getting one soon, then it is important to know about the increased risk of skin cancer in organ transplant recipients taking immunosuppressant medications. However, don't let the statistics get you down. Instead, use them as motivation to avoid sun exposure as much as possible after your transplant, and visit your dermatologist regularly to catch any new skin cancer lesions early while they are easy to treat.