Head & Neck Cancer Aggressive in Transplant Patients

Head and neck cancers found in transplant patients are difficult to treat

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Generally, cancers found in and around the throat are associated with a history of smoking or drinking. However, an aggressive form of this cancer shows up in some organ transplant patients who are taking drugs to prevent organ rejection.

A team from the Henry Ford clinic in Detroit presented its findings from a 20-year review of transplant patients to the Triological Society Meeting, showing that more investigation is needed in the little-understood relationship between immune suppression and cancer development.

"If you've received an organ transplant, be on the lookout for skin changes."

Out of all patients who developed a head and neck cancer, organ transplant patients were the least likely to have a history of drinking or smoking. This finding suggests a possible association between the cancer and a long-term therapy given to transplant patients to suppress organ rejection.

Cancers in these patients grew faster, were more likely to be found in multiple locations and were harder to cure.

The retrospective study examined all 3,639 transplants from the Henry Ford Hospital from January 1990 to December 2011, finding that 95 (2.6 percent)  transplant patients had developed a cancer of the head and neck.

While head and neck cancers are rare in patients with organ transplants, when they do occur, they are particularly aggressive and must be treated accordingly.

Head and neck cancer is defined as cancers developing from the soft tissue around the throat, mouth and tonsils, including the overlying skin.

Study authors remind transplant recipients and healthcare workers to look for and monitor skin changes. 

Results are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 12, 2012
Last Updated:
March 13, 2012