Sunny Transplants?

A few years ago, when I wrote only about Chronic Kidney Disease, the representative of a transplant group asked me to write about transplantees and skin cancer. I respectfully declined. As you may have noticed, my topics have become more wide ranging this year, from PKD to the Chronic Disease Coalition and all things in between. This week, I’m going to add skin cancer and transplantees to that list.

For me, that means going back to the basics since I was surprised that this was even an issue. The logical place to start was The Skin Cancer Foundation at https://www.skincancer.org/prevention/are-you-at-risk/transplants:

The most common skin cancers after transplant surgery are squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), basal cell carcinoma (BCC), melanoma and Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), in that order. (See Table Below) The risk of SCCs, which develop in skin cells called keratinocytes, is about 100 times higher after a transplant compared with the general population’s risk.  These lesions usually begin to appear three to five years after transplantation…. While basal cell carcinoma is the most common skin cancer in the general population, it occurs less frequently than SCC in transplant patients. Even so, the risk of developing a BCC after transplantation is six times higher than in the general population….

Risks of Four Types of Skin Cancer After Transplantation

Risks of Four Types of Skin Cancer After Transplantation

You could have knocked me over with a feather. From this stunning information, I extrapolated that it looks like the anti-rejection drugs are the source of the skin cancer.

Let’s see what these drugs are. The National Kidney Foundation at https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/immuno explains.

Immunosuppressants are drugs or medicines that lower the body’s ability to reject a transplanted organ. Another term for these drugs is anti-rejection drugs. There are 2 types of immunosuppressants:

  1. Induction drugs: Powerful antirejection medicine used at the time of transplant
  2. Maintenance drugs: Antirejection medications used for the long term.

Think of a real estate mortgage; the down payment is like the induction drug and the monthly payments are like maintenance drugs. If the down payment is good enough you can lower the monthly payments, the same as for immunosuppression.

There are usually 4 classes of maintenance drugs:

  • Calcineurin Inhibitors: Tacrolimus and Cyclosporine
  • Antiproliferative agents: Mycophenolate Mofetil, Mycophenolate Sodium and Azathioprine
  • mTOR inhibitor: Sirolimus
  • Steroids: Prednisone

Okay, got it. But I still don’t understand what that has to do with skin cancer. The Department of Dermatology at Oxford University Hospital of the National Health Service Trust (in the United Kingdom) at https://www.ouh.nhs.uk/patient-guide/leaflets/files/11710Pimmunosuppressants.pdf offers this information:

“These drugs work by reducing your immune (defence) system. However, these treatments also increase your risk of skin cancer….”

Now it makes sense. While saving your life via preventing the rejection of your new life giving organ by suppressing your immune system, other conditions like cancer are sneaking passed that suppressed immune system. So you need to take these drugs to keep your new kidney, but they could shorten your life by letting the cancer cells multiply.

PATIENT CHARACTERISTIC FREQUENCY OF
DERMATOLOGY EXAM
No history of skin cancer or Actinic Keratosis Every 1-2 years
History of Actinic Keratosis Every 6 months
History of 1 non-melanoma skin cancer Every 6 months
History of multiple non-melanoma skin cancer Every 3 to 4 months
History of high risk SCC or melanoma Every 2 to 3 months
History of metastatic SCC Every 1 to 2 months

Hmmm, but maybe not. There must be a way to at least help guard against this… and there is. Actually, there are several including avoiding the sun, using sun block, wearing the newish sun blocking clothing, and simply wearing clothing that blocks the sun. (The chart above comes from the same site as the quote below). As the University of California San Francisco Skin Transplant Network phrases it at http://skincancer.ucsf.edu/transplant-patients:

“Clothing is a simple and effective sun protection tool. It provides a physical block that doesn’t wash or wear off and can shade the skin from both UVA and UVB rays. Long-sleeved shirts and pants, hats with broad brims and sunglasses are all effective forms of sun protective clothing.”

There’s quite a bit of easily understood information about the different kinds of skin cancer that affect transplantees at the above URL. By the way, this request for patient participants also appears on their website:

We need transplant recipients to please help us by participating in our brief survey study about your skin.

Please click here to access our online consent form to learn more about the study.

After electronically signing the consent form, you will be directed to a short questionnaire about your health.
There will be no cost to you; your participation is entirely voluntary and will not influence your care or your relationship with your doctors.

Thanks so much for your help in skin cancer research!
UCSF IRB approved, #16-20894

Not only do you find the information you may be looking for about skin cancer and transplantees on this website, but you also have this opportunity to help with skin cancer research.

Whoops! I neglected to define UVA and UBV rays. Encarta Dictionary apprises us that UVA is “ultraviolet radiation, especially from the sun, with a relatively long wavelength,” while UBV is “ultraviolet radiation, especially from the sun, with a relatively short wavelength.” Not very helpful, is it?

Let’s try this another way. Many thanks to Cancer Research UK at https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/sun-uv-and-cancer/how-the-sun-and-uv-cause-cancer for clearing this up for us:

“There are 2 main types of UV rays that damage our skin. Both types can cause skin cancer: UVB is responsible for the majority of sunburns. UVA penetrates deeper into the skin. It ages the skin, but contributes much less towards sunburn.”

Another way to help yourself avoid skin cancer after having a transplant is to learn how to monitor your skin for cancer and then to do so on a regular basis. If you notice any abnormal spots or growths, get thee to thy dermatologist quickly. Apologies to Mr. Shakespeare for suborning his line.

You’ll probably be taught the ABCDE of Melanoma detection, too. The American Academy of Dermatology at www.aad.org is another good source of skin cancer information.

Here are some things I didn’t know about skin cancer that you may not know either. I picked them up at a local lecture on avoiding skin cancer:

Your lips need sunscreen, too.

The most common spot for men to develop skin cancer is the back; for women, it’s the legs.

Stage 3 and 4 Melanoma can get into your lymph nodes.

Effective sun screens contain both titanium and zinc.

Use SPF 50 on your face.

My transplanted friends always tell me transplant is “a treatment, not a cure.” Now I understand it’s a treatment with some possibly serious side effects.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://gailraegarwood.wordpress.com/2018/07/31/sunny-transplants/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: