Secondary Cancer

A small number of patients develop a secondary cancer several years after transplant. Annual monitoring is important.

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Secondary cancers are cancers that occur several months or years after transplant. They are different cancers than the one for which the transplant was performed. 

Secondary cancers are rare, but patients who have been through transplant have a greater chance of developing these cancers than the general population.

Leukemia and MDS after Transplant

Leukemia or myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) occasionally occurs in patients who were transplanted with their own stem cells (autologous transplant).

The risk is highest among patients who:

  • received certain types of chemotherapy before or during transplant, such as cytoxan or etoposide
  • had total body irradiation
  • were older at the time of transplant

Routine blood tests can screen for leukemia and MDS.

Solid Tumors after Transplant

Solid tumors occur in two-five percent of patients after transplant. Although rare, the risk of a solid tumor increases the longer you survive.

  • Breast cancer sometimes occurs in patients who had radiation therapy to their chest.
  • Patients who had chronic GVHD have a higher risk of developing skin or mouth cancer than the general population. 

Preventing Cancer after Transplant

Routine annual screenings for cancer are important, since problems detected early are often easier to treat than those found later.

Screening guidelines for transplant survivors are similar to what is recommended for the general population. However, women who received radiation to the chest should have a mammogram at age 25 or eight years after transplant, whichever comes earlier, and no later than age 40.


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