Updated 09 March 2017

Organ transplants linked to higher skin cancer risk

Research indicates that the risk of skin cancer increases over time with ongoing exposure to medications that suppress the immune system to prevent organ rejection.


People who have an organ transplant may be more likely to develop skin cancer, new research suggests.

Total-body skin exams

The finding applies to all transplant patients, even those who are non-white and dark-skinned, according to Dr Christina Lee Chung, an associate professor of dermatology at Drexel University in Philadelphia, and colleagues.

The researchers said the risk increases over time with ongoing exposure to medications that suppress the immune system to prevent organ rejection.

Read: Redhead gene may boost skin cancer risk

Total-body skin exams should be a routine part of care after transplant surgery, the study authors advised.

For the study, the researchers analysed medical records of 413 organ transplant recipients, 63 percent of whom were not white.

The investigators found 19 new skin cancers in 15 of the non-white patients. That group included six black patients, five Asians and four Hispanics. Among the black patients, all of the skin cancers were caught early on.

A unique group

Most of the Asian patients developed skin cancers in areas that had been exposed to the sun. Skin cancers were also found on sun-exposed areas and lower legs of the Hispanic patients.

Read: Expert advises busy parents to check for skin cancer

The researchers noted, however, that their ability to draw firm conclusions was limited by the small number of skin cancer patients. And the study did not prove a cause-and-effect link.

"Non-white organ transplant patients represent a unique group with specialised medical needs; thus, more knowledge on risk factors, appropriate screening methods and counselling points are essential for providing comprehensive dermatologic care for these patients," the study authors concluded.

The study was published online in JAMA Dermatology. 

Read more:

What is skin cancer?

Symptoms of skin cancer

Types of skin cancer


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