Woman sitting in chair with hat on

Rafael Villicana, MD, offers a quick guide to sun and heat safety for transplant patients.

Though we’re well into autumn, many people may be preparing for vacation in sunnier places or staying home where Southern California can stay warm all year long. This leaves transplant patients vulnerable to the effects of sun and heat — two things a transplant specialist says can have adverse effects on the already vulnerable population of patients.​

Rafael Villicana, MD, kidney transplant specialist at the Loma Linda University Transplant Institute, says he sees the negative effects of sun and heat with his patients year-round.​

“Direct sun exposure puts a transplant patient at risk for skin cancer a hundredfold more than the general population,” Villicana says. “The risk is high and one of the most common cancers seen after organ transplant.”​

Villicana says the anti-rejection medication that patients take after an organ transplant increases their risk for skin cancer by impairing their ability to fight off skin cancer. This is why he offers these five facts to help keep transplant patients safe from heat and sun complications. ​

  1. Time outside amplifies risk. Villicana says you cannot avoid the sun, but if you plan on being out in the sun for more than 20 minutes, preparation can make all the difference. He advises that wearing long sleeves, pants and a wide brim hat can protect your skin. In addition, make sure to use sunscreen with SPF of at least 30 or higher.
  2. Minimize sun exposure during key times. Try to minimize your time to sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the UV rays are the strongest. For those with fair skin, this is a tip that is even more critical, Villicana says. Fairer skin makes someone more likely to get sun damage because they have a lower level of melanin. Melanin helps block damaging UV rays. Knowing when to go outside and what to wear outside is the key.
  3. Cloudy days doesn’t mean there is no sun. You can get a lot of sun exposure even if it is cold and cloudy. Villicana says that for those who enjoy mountain activities, especially in the winter, just because it is 30 degrees outside, does not mean that they will not be at risk for sun-related issues especially. Despite cloudiness, you can still be at risk for UV rays coming through. This is why he advises again to limit time outside, wear sunscreen and clothes that aid in protection.
  4. See a dermatologist once a year for a full body check to detect lesions that could lead to cancer. Regular checkups can help in early detection, Villicana says. If skin cancer is caught early on and removed, it can usually be cured. A dermatologist will be able to do a full-body check that will catch freckles, moles, or any other skin changes that can signal the start of skin cancer.
  5. Dehydration can happen quicker for transplant patients. Heat can creep on transplant patients quickly as their reserves are not as high as others. Organs, especially kidneys, are water dependent. You can run into kidney injury if you are not properly hydrated. ​

At Loma Linda University Health, we are committed to making sure every transplant patient has all of the resources and after care possible for overall wellness and longevity. To learn more about our approach and resources, please visit the Transplant Institute website or call 800-548-3790 to make an appointment with one of our providers.