Melanocytes are pigment cells found in the skin. When this cells become malign, skin cancer begins to develop. Melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer, fortunately very rare among dark skin people.
Statistically, almost 10.000 people yearly die from this condition, only in US. Nevertheless, in most cases, by following a strict check-up routine, dermatological consults and by avoiding direct sun-exposure, it can be prevented.
The study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology suggests that organ transplantation patients are at greater risk of developing melanoma, when compared to people who did not undergo such surgery, due to the immunosuppressive drugs that they need to take after the procedure, for preventing rejection of the new organ.
Moreover, Dr. Hilary A. Robbins from the John Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Medicine in Baltimore found that this category of people are more likely to be diagnosed with later stages melanoma. “Since melanoma is not known to be caused by a virus, some thought that melanoma was increased in transplant recipients because of more intensive screening. Our findings contradict this notion because we found the strongest increase in risk not for localized melanomas – which are likely to be detected during screening – but instead for regional-stage melanomas which have already begun to spread”, Dr. Robbins declared.
Study results were reached by using two different testing methods.
At first, the team of researchers identified 519 melanoma cases, among 139.991 organ transplant recipients recorded in the Transplant Cancer Match Study database. By comparing these results with the general population risk of developing skin cancer, the team found that people who undergo organ transplantation procedures are twice as likely to develop the disease.
The second method used data about 182 organ transplant recipients and 130.000 non-transplanted people, both groups suffering from melanoma. The average 15 years outcome was assessed. 15% more transplant recipients died from this condition. Regardless disease stage, it has been calculated that transplant recipients are at three times greater risk of dying compared to people who did not follow the procedure and four times more likely to be diagnosed with late stage of the disease in the first 4 years after transplantation.
Study findings were linked to the use of an immunosuppressive drug that protects new organs from being rejected by the body’s immune system, because the treatment makes the skin more sensitive to UV rays and melanoma becomes more aggressive. If cancer started developing before organ transplantation surgery, then this type of medication helps cancer spread, researchers claim. “Combined with the observation that melanoma patients who had received a transplant have an increased risk of dying from their melanoma, our results imply that melanoma is not only more common but behaves more aggressively in the setting of transplant-related immunosuppression”, Dr. Robbins told Medical News Today.
Thorough intensive melanoma screening and atypical lesions closer monitoring after transplantation (especially in the next 4 years), cancer can be detected in early stages and metastatic disease can be prevented. “Transplant candidates should also be carefully evaluated prior to transplantation, with the goal of removing melanomas that could quickly metastasise in the setting of immunosuppression”, researchers added.
Also, a very important aspect of skin cancer prevention is to limit sun exposure, as well as always use sunscreen and protective clothing. Limiting direct sunlight contact may be of vital importance for this group of patients.