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The Prevalence of Skin Cancer in Transplant Patients

February 19, 2020

Skin cancer is the most common cancer found in organ transplant recipients. Patients who have received organ transplants are at risk of developing skin cancer. Specifically, 65% more likely than people without transplants. Moreover, in a study conducted by the International Transplant Skin Cancer Collaborative (ITSCC), it was found that transplant patients have a 100-fold increased risk of developing cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma than the general population, and are also at an increased risk of developing basal cell carcinoma, among other skin cancers.

Risk Factors for Patients Who’ve Had Transplants

Knowing that skin cancer in transplant patients is quite common, it’s important to understand that transplant patients with the following characteristics are at an even greater risk to develop skin cancer. The characteristics include:

  • Older individuals
  • Men
  • Fair and freckled skin
  • Blue, green or hazel eyes
  • Red and blonde hair
  • Patients with outdoor occupations or have extensive exposure to the sun
  • Familial history of skin cancer
  • Personal history of skin cancer

The majority of fair-skinned patients who have transplants will eventually develop skin cancer. According to the International Transplant Nurses Society (ITNS), after a transplant, there is generally a lag time of 3-7 years before the skin cancers begin to develop. This period of time may vary depending on individual risk factors. The longer a person takes immunosuppressant medications, the greater the risk of skin cancer.

Educating Your Patients on Their Risk

According to a Karger study, it was found that high levels of patient education are significantly related to patients’ awareness of the susceptibility to skin cancer in transplant patients. Surprisingly, having been to a dermatological practice before does not mean that the patient has been exposed to information on skin cancer in transplant patients. This is true even for those with a history of non-melanoma skin cancers. In fact, the ITNS found that, unfortunately, only 54% of patients that have transplants remember receiving skin cancer education and only 40% regularly use sunscreen.

For many patients, the time of organ transplantation is for more pressing issues like rejection and infection. So, patients are less likely to be able to recall information regarding the risks of sun exposure. Clearly, we need another method of informing patients about the risk of skin cancer in transplant patients. Preferably, one involving dermatologists, who can assist the transplant team with strategies to educate and treat this high-risk population.

Encourage your transplant patients to use proven sun protection strategies. Discover how Sensus Healthcare and its non-surgical skin cancer solution are helping dermatologists and radiation oncologists improve outcomes for their skin cancer patients.


**Originally posted July 20, 2018. Updated on February 19, 2020.