Boston (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Shared medical appointments can work well for patients undergoing solid organ transplants and for the clinical staff treating them – serving as an efficient way to educate several patients in a common setting and giving them the opportunity to interact with others going through a similar experience.

“Having those shared medical appointments where they’re sitting next to somebody who’s going through the same thought process and information gathering … and the ability to talk with similar folks is a huge benefit for those patients,” said Allison Vidimos, MD, chair of the department of dermatology at the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Vidimos and her colleagues have been so focused on skin cancer diagnosis and treatment in this group of patients that “we’ve kind of lost sight of the human aspect of it and the fear that these patients have,” she added.

These shared medical appointments at the Cleveland Clinic also provide the dermatology staff an efficient means to educate a group of patients about the risks of developing skin cancers and benign conditions associated with immunosuppressive treatments. They also discuss sun protection and avoidance practices, and how to perform skin self exams, all of which are “really important for their well being after their transplant,” Dr. Vidimos said during an interview at the American Academy of Dermatology summer meeting.

Patients learn how frequently they will need a clinical skin exam post-transplant, depending on the occurrence of skin cancers, and that biopsies may be necessary at times.

Dr. Vidimos said it is up to the transplant surgeons to discuss with patients the very low risk of transmission of malignancies from the donor to the recipient. In her presentation at the meeting, she cited a 1.4% risk of an undetected skin or internal malignancy in a donor being transmitted to the recipient.

Because of changes in criteria, patients who have relatively low risk skin cancers or higher risk skin cancers and have been treated, and are at “a defined interval post-treatment where we feel it’s safe to do that transplant,” may be considered a transplant candidate, she said noting that previously, such patients would be excluded from a transplant.

The appropriate time intervals to wait for a transplant for candidates with a history of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma, malignant melanoma, or Merkel cell carcinoma are spelled out in a recently published consensus paper Dr. Vidimos coauthored with other members of the International Transplant Skin Cancer Collaborative ( Am J Transplant. 2016 Feb;16[2]:407-13 ).

Dr. Vidimos said she is sometimes called to the bedside to perform a skin exam in a pretransplant patient who is very ill. The most common scenario is a liver transplant candidate awaiting transport to the operating room, who has not had a skin exam and needs to be cleared by a dermatologist to rule out a melanoma or another type of skin cancer that could be “fertilized” by postoperative immunosuppressant therapy.

After a transplant, patients need to be seen frequently enough to detect malignant transformation of precancerous skin lesions. Dermatologists should have a low threshold for biopsying any suspicious lesions early. “A lot of times we get biopsies back of skin cancer that do not match … the clinical picture,” Dr. Vidimos said. Patients should be referred when the dermatologist feels that he or she can not deliver the appropriate treatment.

As transplants have become fairly routine and patients are living longer, community dermatologists will most likely be seeing solid organ transplant recipients more frequently. With longer lifespans, those patients will have more opportunity to develop more skin cancers.

Dr. Vidimos disclosed having received grants and research funding from Genentech.


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