Transplant patients have far more to worry about than this

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The results of a study just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveal that receiving an organ transplant doubles a person s risk of developing cancer, compared to the general population. However, while the doubled risk makes for an alarming headline, the reality is not so dire since a patient s risk of cancer is still only 0.7 percent following an organ transplant.

Despite the relatively small absolute risk of cancer, the increased risk makes sense for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the course of immunosuppressants that a transplant recipient must undergo in order to prevent the new organ from being rejected. Suppressing the immune system is known to simultaneously increase cancer risk and decrease the body s ability to fight the cancer. It s also possible that cells from a cancerous organ that was removed may actually survive the transplant process, says lead study author Dr. Eric Engels of the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

Furthermore, ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross points out, people who need organ transplants don t actually have a lot of options. It s hard to believe that someone would opt against a transplant when the alternative is organ failure, he says. While these latest findings may be useful to the research community, no one who is considering an organ transplant should be alarmed. For clinicians and patients, the important message is that transplant recipients should be screened for certain cancers more stringently than the general population.