Transplant patients ‘not told of cancer risk’

THE SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT is being urged to increase awareness about the dangers to organ transplant patients of developing cancer amid concerns that the risks are still unknown to many Scots.

The drugs issued to organ recipients have been widely linked with the onset of skin cancer. Patients in some areas are made aware of the problem, but the picture is a “hit and miss” across Scotland, according to the partner of one Lanarkshire woman who died recently.

Grant Thomson’s partner, Sharon Argue, died in July from skin cancer, following a successful kidney transplant in 2004. Organ recipients have a 40-70 per cent likelihood of developing this illness, he claims, because the immunosuppressive drugs that prevent the body rejecting the transplanted organ also increase the risk.

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The Scottish Government says the potential side effects of the drugs are discussed with 
patients.

But Mr Thomson, 36, from Cumbernauld, says neither he nor Ms Argue had been made aware of the potential risks at the time and, although some parts of the NHS do warn of the risks, a postcode lottery now exists across Scotland.

He has now lodged a petition at Holyrood that calls on MSPs to urge the Scottish Government to raise awareness of the links between transplants and cancer by providing appropriate guidance and education to medical professionals, patients, their families and carers.

It also calls for warnings and information on the cancer risks associated with the long-term use of immunosuppressant medications. Regular dermatological clinics for these patients should also be introduced to improve on early skin cancer screening and detection levels.

A Facebook page entitled SignforShaz has already attracted more than 1,200 backers, and Mr Thomson says senior medical figures from the Fife, Forth Valley and Lanarkshire health boards have indicated their support for the petition.

Kidney transplant recipients are three times more likely to develop skin cancer than people who have not received a transplant, according to the British Association of Dermatologists.

“This is because immunosuppressive drugs that prevent the body rejecting the transplanted organ, also increase the risk of skin cancer,” said spokeswoman Nina Goad.

Jean Slocombe, senior cancer information nurse at Cancer Research UK, said it is “vitally important” for transplant recipients to take care in the sun to reduce the risk of developing the disease.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said the dangers are discussed with patients.

“Clearly, it is very tragic when a patient develops skin cancer after undergoing a successful organ transplant,” she said.

“Transplantation has huge advantages over other treatments for organ failure. It does carry risks but it also saves a great many lives that would otherwise be lost.”