Organ Transplants Increase Risk of Cancer

Transplant recipients twice as likely to be diagnosed with several types of cancer

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

(RxWiki News) Organ transplants have saved many lives over the years. Unfortunately, organ transplants are linked to an increased risk in developing many types of cancer.

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute in Rockville, Maryland have discovered recipients of solid organ transplants, such as a kidney, lungs, liver or heart, were twice as likely to develop cancer after the transplant. By identifying this increased risk, scientists can develop better therapeutic treatments to improve survival rates.

"If you are undergoing an organ transplant, consult your doctor about any future risks."

According to the study, transplant recipients are at an increased risk due to the immune system being suppressed and viral infections that cause cancer. The immune system is suppressed the reduce the risk of the body rejecting the organ.

The study examined 175,732 organ transplants from 1987 until 2008. Researchers used linked data from the U.S. Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients and 13 state and regional cancer registries to determine any increased risk of developing cancer after transplants. When looking at the data, researchers discovered an increased risk across for all types of cancer for transplant recipients.

The average age of transplant recipients was 47 and over 60 percent of recipients were male. Kidney transplants were the most common type of transplant followed by liver, heart and lung. After the transplant, 10,656 were diagnosed with some type of malignancy.

Non-Hodgkins lymphoma, followed by lung cancer, liver cancer and kidney cancer accounted for 43 percent of all cancer diagnosis for transplant recipients compared to 21 percent in the general population. There was an increased risk in 32 other types of malignancies including anal cancer, melanoma, thyroid cancer and oral cancer.

The risk of developing Non-Hodgkins lymphoma was increased for all types of organ transplants. Lung cancer risk was increased in lung transplant recipients as well as kidney, heart and liver transplants. Kidney cancer risk was increased in kidney transplant recipients as well as liver and heart transplants. Liver cancer risk was only increased in liver transplant recipients.

Even more important than these possible cancer risks is the overall need of transplant patients. According to Michelle Segovia, senior public relations coordinator at the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance, organ availability is the key concern for patient and doctor.

For Ms. Segovia, "prior to being placed on the waiting list for a transplant, patients are told of the risks associated with the transplant. While cancer might be a small possibility, patients and their physicians are more concerned with organ availability. There are more than 112,000 people awaiting a life-saving transplant and 18 die each day because of the drastic organ shortage."

For the authors of the study, some of the causes for cancer developing in transplant recipients is due to the immune system being unable to control viral infections that lead to cancer. Some other factors unrelated to these known viral infections could include inflammation, chronic immune, prior medical conditions or negative side effects of medication.

Due to the increased risk of numerous types of cancer, further developments in preventative care and early detection that target transplant recipients are needed. The authors suggest new research examining possible ways cancer can develop that can be associated with organ transplantation.

This study was published in the November edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 2, 2011
Last Updated:
November 2, 2011