Transplant Recipients at a Higher Risk of Death from Cancer: Study

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Jan 09, 2016 05:52 AM EST

While it is known that organ transplants help prolong the lives of recipients, a new study has found that solid organ transplant recipients (SOTRs) are at a higher risk for dying from cancer.

It is clear that those who received lung, liver and other solid organs already had a higher risks for cancer, reports CBC. However, what remains unclear is whether they will die from the said disease.

The researchers think that transplant patients are unable to receive the most potent of cancer treatments because their immune systems are suppressed to prevent the rejection of an organ being transplanted into them. However, evidence of this hypothesis was not presented in their study.

"Despite the fact that SOTRs have shorter life expectancies and a higher risk of dying of non-cancer-related causes, these patients have an elevated risk of cancer death as compared with the general population,” the researchers wrote in the study, published in JAMA Oncology.

“Addressing the cancer burden in SOTRs is critical to improving the survival of these patients."

For the study, the researchers looked into more than 11,000 transplant patients in Ontario, Canada between 1991 and 2010, following them for 20 years. These patients received either kidney, liver, lung and heart transplants. There were 3,608 patient deaths recorded, 20 percent or 603 of which were cancer-related. This number is significantly higher than those of the general population's.

It was found that the overall risk of cancer-related death remained high regardless of the organ the patients received. It was also found that the risk was higher for children who received transplants but lower in patients older than 60, reports the United Press International.

Skin cancer was the most common cause of cancer-related death among the patients who participated in the study, reports CBC. Cancer was the second-leading cause of death for patients, following only after heart-related causes.

Study author Dr. Nancy Baxter, a colorectal surgeon at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, said that transplant patients should be aware of their higher risk for cancer. Health-care providers, on the other hand, should focus on prevention and screening.

"I think that we've done a really great job in getting people to live longer and live well with their transplants," Baxter said. "It's time to shift the focus."

A journal commentary notes that the study was able to establish the association between organ transplants and cancer-related death. However, commentary author Dr. Marianne Schmid of the University Medical Center in Hamburg, Germany, said that it doesn't establish what needs to be done for the patients.

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