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Undergoing an Organ Transplant can Increase Death Risk from Cancer, Study Says

Update Date: Jan 09, 2016 01:07 PM EST

People who have undergone an organ transplant are more likely to die from cancer than people who have not had the procedure.

For this study, the researchers examined transplant data on more than 11,000 patients between 1991 and 2010. The surgeries included livers, hearts, kidneys and lungs. Overall there were more than 3,000 deaths with 600 of them being tied to cancer.

The researchers found that transplant patients were 30 times more likely to die from non-melanoma skin cancer, nearly 13 times more likely to die from liver cancer, about 10 times more likely to die from non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and about five times more likely to die from bone or soft tissue cancer.

When the team analyzed mortality rate in child transplant cases, they found that those who have had a transplant were 85 times more likely to die than other children. In older patients aged 60 and up, the team calculated that risk of death in transplant patients was two times higher than their peers.

Overall, organ transplant patients are three times more likely to die from cancer when compared to the general public. 

The experts reasoned that the immune-suppressant drugs used in transplant surgeries could be affecting people's immune system.

"Our immune system helps us fight cancer. It helps fight off some malignancies," lead investigator, Dr. Nancy Baxter said. "If you have that dampened down, it may have an impact."

Baxter added, reported by HealthDay via U.S. News and World Report, "They've got a lot going on in terms of their transplants, they're on a lot of medications, and they may not tolerate the kind of aggressive treatment we give for cancer that the average person gets."

The researchers and experts stressed, however that patients should not be alarmed about the study's findings.

"The article shouldn't scare patients into avoiding life-saving transplantation or induce them to stop their immunosuppression," Dr. Thomas Schiano, a medical director of liver transplant for Mount Sinai Health System in New York City, said. "They should work with their transplant team to establish specifics regarding cancer screening, i.e., seeing a dermatologist annually for skin cancer screening."

The study was published in the journal, JAMA Oncology.

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