Increased Cancer Risk for Organ Transplant Recipients

by , under Contemporary Cancer Topics, Lung Cancer

A recently released study has reported that organ transplant recipients in the United States have a high risk of being diagnosed with approximately 30 types of cancer. Researchers from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), which is affiliated with the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

In this study, researchers analyzed approximately 175,000 transplant recipients. This was about 40% of total organ transplants in the country for the year.  The results of this study was released in the November 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Researchers summarized the study by stating that although organ transplantation saves lives of patients with end-stage organ failure, it also increases organ recipient cancer risk. The major factor is the immune system suppressant drugs that are given to these patients to reduce the risk of organ rejection. In fact, the cancer risk of organ transplant recipients is similar to HIV victims, as their risk for cancer incidence is higher because of the immunosuppression. Although it has been previously documented that transplant recipients are at a higher risk for getting cancer than average people, earlier scientific studies of cancer risk in transplant patients was mostly focused on kidney transplants. Sample sizes for other organ recipients were too small to accurately ascertain cancer incidence rates.

In this recent study, the principal researcher (Eric A. Engels, M.D.) analyzed the U.S. registry of transplant recipients from 1987 to 2008. They found a twofold overall increased incidence of cancer among all American transplant recipients, which is similar to previous findings. It was also found that there was an elevated risk for 32 different types of cancer, some of which are known to be associated with infectious agents, although some are unrelated to infections.

Researchers found that the most common cancers with which transplant recipients were afflicted were:

  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (14%)-Elevated over 7 times in organ transplant recipients which is highest for transplant recipients who are children or older adults, and is thought to be highly correlated with immune suppression and Epstein-Barr virus infections. Highest in lung transplant recipients, average in heart and liver recipients and lowest in kidney recipients.
  • Lung cancer (13%)-Lung cancer incidence was highest in lung transplant recipients. Smoking-related diseases were usually the reason for lung transplant, with the cancer most likely to afflict the recipient’s other diseased lung rather than the transplanted lung, may also be related to lung inflammation or chronic lung infections.
  • Liver cancer (9%)-Risk of lung cancer was only elevated with liver transplant recipients, which is often related to recurring hepatitis B or C infection in the transplanted liver, or to diabetes, which is a common disease with organ recipients.
  • Kidney cancer (7%)-The risk of kidney cancer is elevated for all organ recipients. The researchers seem to think that this risk may be due to immune-suppressive medications which may have their own carcinogenicity.

It appears that organ transplant patients have a lot of trouble with infections and cancer. I do know that organ transplants are often necessary to preserve the life of patients. I think that a better approach would be to preserve normal organ function and health before they reach the level of catastrophic failure.  Organ transplant surgery is a dramatic, daring, often heroic measure to save life.  But it seems to me that a more advanced, effective method would be to prevent organ failure.  Often, patients and physicians alike are not always sure how to do this. I think that education and an honest search for truth about proper health would go a long way towards greatly reducing organ failure. Also, the removal of toxins and metabolic poisons (e.g., high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, food colorings, fluoride, etc.) from the food supply would do a lot to reduce health problems.

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