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Skincare for cold weather

Do Transplant Recipients Face an Increased Risk of Developing Skin Cancer?

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Did you know that organ transplant patients are at an increased risk of developing skin cancer? Skin cancer can affect anyone regardless of gender, race or age, but organ transplant recipients are at much greater risk. Organ transplants have become more common over the years, with the Ochsner Transplant Institute performing more than 8,000 transplant surgeries since opening its doors in 1984. More than 100,000 people are waiting for an organ transplant, according to Donate Life America. After a lifesaving saving transplant surgery, you may still face risks, including an increased chance of skin cancer. Here is what you need to know to protect yourself from the sun’s harsh rays.

Why the increased risk?

Organ transplant patients are at greater risk for developing skin cancer because they take medication that suppresses their immune system. While these medications are necessary to protect the transplanted organ, these same medications cause the skin to become more sensitive to the sun’s ultraviolent rays.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, factors such as skin tone, prior history of skin cancer, age the patient received a transplant and the specific organ transplanted all play a part in the risk of skin cancer. The American Academy of Dermatology says patients with lighter skin are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer. Also, if you received a transplant over the age of 50 or received a heart or lung transplant, you are at even greater risk.

Types of skin cancers after organ transplant

There are four skin cancers that are most common after an organ transplant surgery. According to Skin Cancer Foundation, the four most common in order are:

Skin cancer type:

Likelihood of transplant patient being diagnosed compared to the general population:

Squamous cell carcinoma

100 times more likely

Basal cell carcinoma

6 times more likely


2 times as likely

Merkel cell carcinoma

24 times as likely

How to protect yourself from the sun

There are many things one can do to protect their skin from the sun’s harsh rays. Here are a few ways, recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology, to help limit the amount of sun exposure:

  1. Seek shade where possible.
  2. Wear protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts, long pants, a wide-brimmed hat and 99% to 100% UV-filtering sunglasses.
  3. Limiting sun exposure throughout the day.
  4. Apply a generous amount of water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen lotion with an SPF of 30 or higher. Here are a few recommended sunscreens:
    1. Face sunscreen – such as Elta MD UV Clear or Neutrogena Sheer Zinc
    2. Body sunscreen – such as LaRoche Posay Melt-in Sunscreen Milk SPF 60

Early detection

Along with taking precautions, you should also conduct regular skin cancer self-exams. You can ask a partner or a close friend to check your hard to see areas such as your back. It is extremely important to check your body regularly to catch any irregularities as early as possible before the cancer metastasizes throughout the body.

  • If you have been diagnosed with skin cancer prior to your transplant or have a family history of skin cancer, dermatologists recommend skin checks at least every year and possibly more frequently.
  • If you are awaiting a transplantation surgery, visit a dermatologist for a skin check. If spots are caught prior to transplantation, they should be treated prior to transplant.
  • If you notice any new or suspicious spots, schedule an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist. A new or changing mole with several colors in it, or that is bleeding or scabbing may be a sign of concern.

While there are many factors that can place you at a higher risk for skin cancer, it is important for organ transplant patients, no matter your skin tone or age, to understand the risk of skin cancer. It is important to protect yourself from sun exposure and examine your body regularly for irregular spots.

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