High rates of de novo malignancy compromise post-heart transplantation survival

Katherine Giuliano, Joseph K. Canner, Kent Stevens, Alejandro Suarez-Pierre, Chun W. Choi, Robert S.D. Higgins, Steven Hsu, Kavita Sharma, Ahmet Kilic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Transplant patients are known to have increased risk of developing de novo malignancies (DNMs). As post-transplant survival increases, DNM represents an obstacle to further improving survival. We sought to examine the incidence, types, and risk factors for post-transplant DNM. Methods: We studied adult heart transplant recipients from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network database (1987–2018). Kaplan-Meier survival analysis was performed to determine annual probabilities of developing DNM, excluding squamous and basal cell carcinoma. Rates were compared to the general population in the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results database. Cox proportional hazards regression was performed to calculate hazard ratios for risk factors of DNM development, all-cause, and cancer-specific mortality. Results: Over median follow-up of 6.9 years, 18% of the 49,361 patients developed DNM, which correlated with an incidence rate 3.8 times that of the general population. The most common malignancies were lung, post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorder, and prostate. Risk was most increased for female genital, tongue/throat, and renal cancers. Male gender, older age, smoking history, and impaired renal function were risk factors for developing DNM, whereas the use of MMF for immunosuppression was protective. Cigarette use, increasing age, the use of ATG for induction and calcineurin inhibitors for maintenance were risk factors for cancer-specific mortality. The development of a DNM increased the risk of death by 40% (p <.001). Conclusions: Heart transplant patients are at increased risk of malignancy, particularly rare cancers, which significantly increases their risk of death. Strict cancer surveillance and attention to immunosuppression are critical for prolonging post-transplant survival.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1401-1410
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Cardiac Surgery
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021


  • cardiac transplantation
  • de novo malignancy
  • immunosuppression regimen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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