Kidney transplant: Does it increase my cancer risk?

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Kidney transplant: Does it increase my cancer risk?

Question

Is it true that having a kidney transplant increases the risk of cancer?

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Answer

Yes, having a kidney transplant increases your risk of cancer. Even before getting a transplant, just having end-stage kidney disease may slightly increase your risk of cancer.

People who've received a kidney transplant or any other solid organ transplant, such as a liver, pancreas or heart, are more likely to develop cancer than are those who've not had a transplant. The long-term use of immunosuppressive drugs that prevent rejection of the transplanted organ appears to be a contributing factor. A suppressed immune system may permit abnormal cells — which are normally kept in check by your immune system — to become cancerous. It's unclear whether certain immunosuppressive drugs increase this risk more than others.

Viruses, such as Epstein-Barr, play a role in some cancers in transplant recipients. Very rarely, a cancer may already be present in the transplanted organ, either as a primary or metastatic cancer.

Skin cancers are the most frequent cancers in transplant recipients. For this reason, it's important to protect your skin from sun exposure after an organ transplant. You should also discuss with your doctor a schedule of cancer screenings appropriate to your specific circumstances.

In general, the risk of developing a serious cancer is low compared with the many benefits of a successful kidney transplant when needed.

Last Updated: 05/23/2007
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