Skin cancer rates have more than tripled since 1975, due in part to the depletion of the ozone layer and the ever-rising popularity of tanning. But this isn’t the only reason for increased cancer rates in recent years.
Scientists recently discovered that those who undergo organ transplants are more susceptible to skin cancer because they take immunosuppressant drugs during treatment. These drugs stop the body from rejecting the donated organ, but it also leaves the body vulnerable to preventable diseases, especially skin cancer.
While it’s believed that people of color, especially black people, do not contract skin cancer due to the amount of melanin in their skin, the a study has found evidence dismissing this claim, especially regarding those who have received organ transplants.
A new study conducted by the Drexel University College of Medicine recommends that all organ recipients should receive skin cancer screenings, regardless of race.
The researchers evaluated 259 non-white transplant recipients during the study. By the end, 19 cancerous lesions were found among six black patients, five Asian patients, and four Hispanic patients.
“Once physicians began to realize there was a significant number of transplant patients dying from skin cancer, there was a push to prevent it,” said Christina Lee Chung, MD, an associate professor of dermatology in the College of Medicine and Director of the Drexel Dermatology Center for Transplant Patients. “But much of the field has focused on trying to decrease the morbidity of the Caucasian transplant population, which is more susceptible to skin cancer overall…This is the first research of its kind to look at a diverse population of nonwhite transplant recipients and how skin cancer affects them.”
Dr. Chung says that dermatologists need to shift the way that they handle organ transplant in patients of color, and that it is likely that there are even more variances in skin cancer rates among these patents.
No guidelines are in place that require transplant recipients to receive cancer screenings pre- and post-operation, but fair-skinned patients are more likely to have a full-body evaluation from a dermatologist, thanks to recommendations by their doctors. Black transplant patients, however, may only see a dermatologist if a lesion has presented itself. By then, it may be too late.