A Canadian study found that organ transplant patients have heightened risk of dying from cancer than regular people.
Researchers found a high cancer mortality risk especially in people that had undergone liver or kidney transplant, while the recipients of other solid organs such as heart and lung were also at risk.
Study authors recommend organ transplant recipients to undergo regular screening to detect cancer before it is too advanced to be treated.
The new study involved over 11,000 patients who underwent an organ transplant. The findings revealed that 20 percent of these patients died of cancer over the course of two decades following the procedure. What’s more, scientists found that a large number of the deaths were caused by skin cancer.
According to the research, of 3,000 patients that had their kidneys, livers, hearts or lungs transplanted and eventually died over a 20-year follow-up period 603 died from cancer.
When the study results were adjusted and researchers removed patients who had a cancer diagnosis before the transplant, organ transplant recipients had a twofold risk of dying from cancer than non-recipients.
Dr. Nancy Baxter, lead author of the study and cancer expert at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada, explained that the medication used by transplant patients to trick their bodies into accepting the new organs might boost the cancer death risk. The drugs intermingle with the patient’s immune system which may up cancer risk on the long run, she said.
Dr. Baxter argued that the drugs do not only suppress the body’s immune response to an intruder i.e. the new organ, but they also suppress the immune response to cancer. This may be why cancer is harder to treat in transplant patients than in general population.
Also, cancer death risk may be higher in this group because transplant recipients do not receive the powerful chemotherapy a regular patient does. Doctors are concerned that these patients’ weak immune system may not help them fight the toxicity of anti-cancer medications, so they go for a gentler approach. But in the battle against cancer, this could sometimes prove fatal.
The Canadian researchers also found that organ recipients are 30 times more likely than regular people to die from skin cancer. Moreover, regardless of the type of skin cancer the disease still boosted these people’s mortality risk, making anti-cancer drugs ineffective.
Since skin cancer death risk is so high, researcher believe that it is best for transplant patients to stay away from too much sun and make sure that they undergo skin checks on a regular basis.
Image Source: Flickr
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