One of the wonders of modern medicine, as its advocates would posit, is the organ transplant. This miraculous technique seems almost to defy nature – but researchers have now discovered it comes at a price.
For the new organ to be accepted by the body, it’s vital that the patient takes powerful immunosuppressant drugs, and probably for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, the longer the patient takes the drug, the greater the likelihood that he will develop skin cancer.
One Australian study of transplant patients found that the rate of skin cancer rose from 7 per cent after one year of immunosuppressants to 82 per cent after 20 years. From this, it appears that virtually everyone who has an organ transplant will eventually develop skin cancer, which can often be fatal.
It could be argued that the surgery can buy you up to 20 years of life, but there’s still plenty that can be done to reduce the risk of skin cancer, say researchers.
Patients should avoid direct exposure to the sun by applying high-factor sunscreen and by wearing a hat and appropriate clothing. Early detection of skin cancers can also help – and perhaps, too, the immunosuppressant regime could also be tapered.
(Source: New England Journal of Medicine, 2003; 348: 1681-91).