Saturday, April 4, 2009

It's Here: The Skin Cancer My Doc Told Us About

Nearly two weeks ago I went to the dermatologist about a small spot on the side of my face that, after a month or so, wouldn't heal. It's very small but to be safe, I decided to have it checked. The nurse practitioner scraped off some cells, said she didn't think it looked threatening but sent it to the lab anyway. Ten days later I got the call: It's a squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and while it's not malignant, the dermatologist must remove it to avoid future problems.

Although I didn't expect the diagnosis, it wasn't a shock. At our first consultation with the transplant surgeon, one of the things we learned was that transplant patients are substantially more likely to develop skin cancer, primarily because of immunosuppression. A chart from the Department of Dermatology on the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine website shows that organ transplant recipients are 65 times more likely to develop SCC, and 100 times more likely than the general population to have non-malignant skin cancer.

Considering that I grew up in the South, around swimming pools and beaches in the days when there was nothing better than sun-kissed blonde hair and a deep brown tan (or for me, a red-hot sunburn), I expected to become good friends with a dermatologist when I got older and it became time to pay the price for my sun-worshipping ways. My transplant and immunosuppressants are like gasoline on a fire.

I've come to learn that skin cancer isn't the only form of cancer that affects all transplant recipients and liver transplant patients, in particular. A study published in the October 2008 issue of Liver Transplantation reported that liver transplant patients are more likely than the general population to have a higher incidence of all types of cancer. According to the report, "The most common cancer types in our cohort were lymphoma and skin cancer." It continued, "Based on our data, one out of six liver transplant patients is estimated to develop some form of cancer by 20 years after transplantation."

And so it goes. I'll blog about this experience, too - I've never had any skin cancer incidents before and it's all new to me. If you have advice or suggestions, please leave a comment. Apparently, there will two levels of stitches, which seems like overkill for such a tiny spot (think: zit).

Photo by Sanja Gjenero