The Prevalence of Skin Cancer in Transplant Patients
Skin cancer is the most common cancer found in organ transplant recipients. Patients who have received an organ transplant are up to 65 times more likely to develop skin cancer 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.
Transplant Patient Risk Factors
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
- 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 transplant patients 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—even for those with a history of non-melanoma skin cancers—does not mean that the patient has been exposed to information on skin cancer in transplant patients. In fact, the ITNS found that, unfortunately, only 54% of transplant patients remember receiving skin cancer education and only 40% regularly use sunscreen.
For many transplant recipients, the time around an organ transplantation is consumed with more pressing issues of rejection and infection, so patients are less likely to be able to recall information regarding the risks of sun exposure. Clearly, another method of informing patients of the risk of skin cancer in transplant patients is needed—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.