Organ transplant recipients are twice as likely to develop melanoma as people who do not undergo a transplant, and three times more likely to die of the dangerous skin cancer, suggests new research led by a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health student.
The findings, reported August 13 in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, suggest that the immunosuppressive medications that transplant recipients receive to keep them from rejecting their new organs — especially the high doses administered at the time of transplant — may make them more susceptible to later stage cancers that are harder to cure. The researchers found that transplant recipients were four times more likely to be diagnosed with regional stage melanoma, which has already begun to spread to other parts of the body.
“We knew that melanoma was more likely in transplant recipients, but we thought it might be a function of intensive screening since they are very likely to develop less deadly forms of skin cancer and are checked regularly by dermatologists,” says Ms. Hilary A. Robbins, a PhD student in the department of epidemiology at the Bloomberg School who conducted much of the research while working at the National Cancer Institute. “To the contrary, we were surprised to see that transplant recipients were particularly at risk for developing melanomas that weren’t found until they had already spread.”