People on immunosuppressive regimens are at a higher risk of developing cancers. Anti-rejection drugs (also known as immunosuppressants) suppress your immune system and are essential to prevent rejection of your transplanted organ. However, this can mean your body is also less able to recognise and destroy abnormal cells, such as sun-damaged skin cells, which may multiply to cause cancers.
Cancers to look out for
It is important for everybody, but especially transplant recipients, to look out for the following cancers and keep appointments for screening when they are offered.
Testicular cancer (men only)
Self-examination is encouraged to check for any lumps or abnormalities.
Prostate cancer (men only)
Symptoms include needing to urinate more often (particularly at night) and difficulty starting or stopping urination.
Cervical cancer (women only)
Symptoms include unusual vaginal bleeding. However, there are often no symptoms and you should always attend cervical cancer screening appointments.
Breast cancer (women only)
When self-checking look out for a lump or thickening of the breast, dimpling in the skin, changes to the nipple including leaking of fluid, a lump in the armpit or any pain or discomfort.
Symptoms include a change in bowel habits (such as diarrhoea that lasts for several weeks or going more often than usual) and blood in faeces.
If you are worried or have any of these symptoms, contact your doctor or transplant team as soon as possible.
Tips for preventing skin cancer
It is important for everybody to avoid too much sun exposure because this can lead to skin cancer. As a transplant recipient you are at a higher risk of skin cancer, and this risk increases over time post-transplantation. You should follow these tips for protecting your skin:
• Wear a waterproof sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF; at least 15) all year round
• Wear long sleeves, a hat and UV sunglasses when outside in the sun
• Avoid the sun during the hottest part of the day during summer (11am - 3pm)
• Check your skin regularly for any changes
How to check for skin cancer
The earlier skin cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat. Look for these signs of skin cancer. If you recognise any of these symptoms, tell your doctor or transplant team immediately.
• A crusted or scaly area of skin that does not heal
• A sore that won’t heal or keeps coming back
• A shiny or red bump that doesn’t go away
• Check moles for any changes including size (getting bigger), shape (especially irregular edges), colour (especially if gets darker or patchy), itching, soreness or bleeding
• A new mole appearing after the age of 30