Increased cancer risk after liver transplantation

It is recognized that the medication used to prevent rejection after organ transplantation increases the risk of cancer. We studied the risk of developing cancer in a patient group consisting of all 540 patients who received liver transplants in Finland between 1982 and 2005. When linked with the Finnish Cancer Registry, it was found that 39 cases of cancer had developed among patients during follow-up. This translates into a 2.6-fold increased cancer risk to that seen in the general population. On the basis of the results, one of six liver transplant patients is estimated to develop some form of cancer by 20 years after transplantation.

Of different cancer types, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and certain types of skin cancer were more common in liver transplant recipients than in the general population. Risk factors for skin cancer were older age and certain drugs used for acute rejection episodes, while those for non-Hodgkin lymphoma were male gender, young age, and the immediate post-transplant period.

Results from this study remind us of the importance of cancer surveillance after liver transplantation, as well as the need for innovative immunosuppression strategies associated with less cancer risk.

Publication: Åberg, F., Pukkala, E., Sankila, R., Höckerstedt, K., Isoniemi, H.: Risk of malignant neoplasms after liver transplantation: a population-based study. Liver Transpl. 2008; 14: 1428-1436.