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Get transplant, get cancer?

A new study has found that people who receive liver, kidney and other solid organ transplants are up to three times more likely to die from cancer than the general population.

The Ontario study of more than 11,000 transplant patients found that almost one-fifth of the deaths in this group over a 20-year period were cancer-related.

Researchers found that children who received a new organ had a higher risk of dying from cancer than transplant patients over age 60.

Lead researcher Dr. Nancy Baxter, a cancer surgeon at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, says drugs used to suppress the immune system to prevent organ rejection likely contribute to higher cancer rates and more aggressive disease.

Skin cancer topped the list of malignancies causing death, with transplant patients having a 30 times higher risk of dying from the disease than those in the general population.

Baxter says that's why it's critical for transplant patients to avoid sun exposure and to have regular screening for skin cancer.

"Transplant patients currently receive cancer screening and prevention recommendations similar to those for the general population, but the increased risk faced by this population calls for a more targeted approach," she said.

"We also recommend that health-care providers counsel these patients to take every possible precaution to reduce their risk, including limiting sun exposure, quitting smoking, reducing alcohol consumption, improving diet, and increasing physical activity."

The study by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences and St. Michael's Hospital is published in Thursday's edition of the journal JAMA Oncology.

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