05. PTC: Cancer Risks for Heart Recipients
Updated 1/27/2020 JMG
For all people, cancer risk increases as a natural part of the aging process. For heart transplant recipients, the risk increases with each year of immunosuppressant drug use. This means that the longer heart transplant recipients survive post-transplant, the greater the incidence of cancer. There are also certain lifestyle choices that can raise your risk of cancer, such as not getting regular exercise, smoking, or having a poor diet.
- Cancer is the leading cause of death for heart transplant recipients.
- Studies indicate that heart transplant recipients are at 50 times greater risk of developing skin cancer compared to the general public.
Most heart transplant programs follow their patients for life and in semi-annual clinic visits. It is recommended that you see a dermatologist on a regular schedule (usually at least twice a year unless other factors indicate closer surveillance). Your doctor can recommend proper screenings, and can teach you about early warning signs to be on the lookout for.
There are also certain lifestyle choices you can make to reduce your risk of cancer. Below you will learn how to make an action plan to stay healthy and manage your risk. But first, watch and listen to the following short videos by transplant medical specialists to gain more understanding of your risk as a heart recipient and what you can do to reduce your risk.
- First and most important, follow your transplant team's advice and recommended precautions and healthcare screenings.
- Follow your care team’s advice when it comes to sun exposure. Transplant medications can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight leading to skin cancers.
- See a dermatologist regularly who specializes in treating transplant patients. A specialist will have a better understanding of your unique needs as a transplant recipient and can work with your transplant team to adjust medication dosages or propose different medication options to reduce the risk of skin cancers.
- If you do develop skin cancer, your dermatologist can use a special pain-free procedure to completely remove the cancer. This is called a Mohs surgery and is a common procedure used with transplant patients.
- If you are a smoker, commit to quitting. Quitting can be daunting, but there are many resources available to help you make a plan to quit and stick to it. Click here to learn more. [coming: a link to external resources and programs]
- Eat a healthy balanced diet.
- If you are overweight, consider trying to lose weight. For help, take a look at these resources. [coming: a link to external resources and programs]
- Stay active. As approved by your physician, getting regular exercise has been linked to reduced cancer risk.
Ready to check what you've learned?
- Learn the signs and symptoms for early skin cancer detection through this short description with example pictures: https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/how-to-spot-skin-cancer.html
- Learn more by watching the longer video [click here for that video] that gives an in-depth exploration of this subject. Note there are some graphic images included, which are intended to help you know what to look for and motivate you to take action.
- Use the closing link below to move to the LOOK section where topics addressing the more common cancer symptoms are explained.
- After reading about the symptoms, use the LIVE section to understand how to prevent, diagnose, treat and live long in recovering from cancer.
- Under the site's LINKS section, you can watch patient testimonials of transplant recipients living successfully with cancers of various types. There you will also find 10 Best Practices for living with the risks of post-transplant cancer, as well as an extensive list of online reading and video resources related to this important issue.