Skin Cancer After Organ Transplant

THIS INFORMATION IS USEFUL FOR CHILDREN, ADULTS AND OLDER ADULTS
skin cancer
Why Yale Medicine?
  • Our dermatologists have specialized expertise treating people at increased for skin cancer risk.
  • Dermatologists work with transplant surgeons to ensure that patients' skin cancer risk is the lowest possible.
  • Our doctors help patients take special measures to reduce their skin cancer risk.

If you have received a transplant of a major organ such as a kidney, liver, heart, lung or pancreas, your risk of developing skin cancer is now about 100 times higher than that of the general population. 

That's because of immune system changes accompanied your transplant. Skin cancers tend to be more aggressive in people who have had an organ transplant.

Protecting your skin against threats such as sun damage and having your skin examined regularly for early cancer signs are now especially important for you. The dermatologists at Yale Medicine are highly qualified to help you do both.

One of the immune system's primary tasks is to attack and eliminate foreign objects that enter the body, and that includes transplanted organs. Transplant recipients are treated with special medications that weaken the immune system so that it won't attack the new organ. 

But there is a tradeoff. The same medications that allow the transplanted organ to survive and function well also reduce the immune system's ability to do other important jobs, such as keeping certain cancers—including skin cancers—in check. Some immunosuppressants might even promote skin cancer. 

“The drugs are essential, so we need to work around them,” says Oscar Rene Colegio, MD, PhD, a dermatologist at Yale Medicine and associate professor of dermatology and pathology at Yale School of Medicine. At Yale Medicine, dermatologists work hand in hand with transplant physicians, so that both your transplanted organ and the health of your skin receive maximum attention.