Caring for your skin after an organ transplant
How to help protect yourself from skin cancer
Skin-Cancer-Post-Transplant-Flyer.pdf (701 KB)
Why is skin care so important after transplant?
After you have had an organ transplant, you are more likely to develop skin cancer than people who have not had a transplant. In fact, more than half of all transplant patients are found to have skin cancer less than 15 years after their transplants.
The kinds of skin cancer most often found in transplant patients are:
- Squamous cell carcinoma
- Basal cell carcinoma
However, there are steps you can take to protect your skin. If found early, most types of skin cancer can be removed before they spread.
Why am I at risk?
When you have an organ transplant, the medicines that help keep your body from rejecting your new organ also make your immune system weaker. This makes it harder for your body to fight diseases such as cancer. Your doctor will try to give you the right medicines in the right amounts to keep your immune system healthy while not rejecting the transplant.
The sun and your skin
The more time you spend in the sun – before and after transplant – the more likely it is for you to develop skin cancer. Even on cloudy days or when it’s cold outside, UV rays from the sun can damage your skin. While the amount of exposure you have had to the sun is the main risk factor, people with light skin that burns easily are at greater risk than people with darker skin.
Research has found that some viruses have links to certain kinds of skin cancer. When your immune system is weak, it is harder for your body to fight viral infections.
These viruses are thought to have the potential to cause skin cancer in people who have had a transplant:
- Human herpesvirus 8
- Human papillomavirus
- Merkel cell virus
If you have any of these viral infections, you will need to talk with your doctor about finding the best treatment for you.
How to help protect yourself from skin cancer: know your body and your risk factors.
Risk factors include your age, exposure to the sun, viruses and the strength of your immune system. Take an active role in your care. You know your body and how you feel. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to talk to your doctor if you have a concern.
Protect your skin from the sun:
- Stay inside or in the shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is most harmful to your skin.
- When you go outside in the daylight, use a sunblock of SPF 15 or higher on all skin exposed to the sun.
- Use sunblock even on cloudy days.
- Put more sunblock on every two hours or after you swim or sweat.
- Wear clothes that cover most of your skin: pants, long-sleeve shirts, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses.
- Don't let your skin burn. This means no sun tanning and no tanning beds.
Check your skin using the ABDCE rule.
You will need to check your moles often to look for signs of cancer. The ABCDE rules help you know what to look for when you examine your moles.
- Asymmetry. Imagine dividing your mole in half; do the halves look different?
- Borders. Are the edges of the mole blurred or jagged?
- Color. Does the mole look like it has more than one color? Has the color of the mole changed over time? Is it getting lighter or darker
- Diameter. Is the mole wider than one-fourth of an inch (the size of a pencil eraser) across?
- Evolution. Is the mole's color, size or shape changing over time?
If you answer yes to any one of these questions, you should tell your doctor right away.
Have a doctor check your skin regularly.
If you have had a transplant, you need to see a dermatologist at least once a year. You should go more often if you have any of these risk factors:
- Your job: do you work outdoors?
- Type of skin: is it easily hurt by sunlight?
- Sun exposure: did you get a lot of sun when you were younger? Do you still spend time in the sun?
- Immunosuppression: how well does your body fight disease?