Skin cancer

It is important to know that organ transplant recipients are at increased risk of skin cancer.

The International Transplant Skin Cancer Collaboration advises that the anti-rejection or immunosuppressive medications that doctors prescribe after (and sometimes before) transplant can increase the risk of skin cancer. There are some things you should keep in mind about skin cancer, including how to recognize it early if it develops. You may want to talk to your transplant team or your doctor about seeing a dermatologist for specific advice.

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer starts at the skin cell. In each skin cell, a set of genes instructs the cell to do the right thing at the right time. Skin cancer happens when the cells of the epidermis (the outer layer of a person’s skin) become damaged and begin to grow out of control.

Tips for transplant patients about skin cancer

1The International Transplant Skin Cancer Collaborative advises transplant patients to have at least one complete skin examination by a dermatologist soon after transplant (within 4 months if possible). It may be a good idea to ask your dermatologist how often you should return, based on your personal level of risk.

2Try to protect yourself from the sun. Avoid the sun between 10 am and 4 pm, and stay in the shade whenever you can. It’s good to cover your skin with clothing. Darker materials offer more protection than light-colored materials, and so do closely woven fabrics. Use protective sunglasses with frames that fit closely against the face to protect your eyes. A broad-brimmed hat provides more protection than a baseball style cap, which doesn’t protect your ears.

3It’s important to be aware of skin changes because many skin cancers may be cured if they are found and treated early. Your doctor or dermatologist may advise you on how to check your skin.

The American Academy of Dermatology advises that you should be on the lookout for:
  • Any new spot or unusual freckle, mole, sunspot, or sore that doesn’t heal
  • A spot that looks different from other spots around it
  • A spot that has changed color, size, or shape over a few weeks or months, or a spot that has an irregular border or becomes itchy or bleeds

4Try to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily with sun protection factor (SPF) 30 or greater.

You play an important role in detecting skin cancer. It’s important to see a dermatologist if you see anything unusual on your skin.

What is ultraviolet radiation (UVR)?

Most skin cancers are caused by invisible UVR from the sun. UVR causes sunburn, sun damage, and premature aging of the skin. Over time it can lead to skin cancer. UVR can also cause eye damage. Though UVR is higher in summertime and during daytime hours, it is still there on cloudy days and at later hours.

Skin cancer protection information according to the International Transplant Skin cancer Collaborative, www.itscc.org/patients/prevention/ and the American Academy of Dermatology, www.aad.org/spot-skin-cancer/learn-about-skin-cancer/detect-skin-cancer/what-to-look-for; both accessed October 14, 2014.