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What is the Connection Between Lupus and Cancer?

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  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 September 2016
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There are two primary connections between lupus and cancer that patients should be aware of after being diagnosed with the condition. The first is that there is a slightly increased risk of certain cancers among those with lupus. Secondly, patients seem to also be protected from certain other types of cancers, with fewer deaths being reported among them than in the general population.

The main link between lupus and cancer is that there appears to be an increased risk for sufferers of this condition for cancer of the lungs and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma affects the lymph nodes and other areas of the lymphatic system and is often treatable with early detection. The increase in risk for these cancers seems to be relatively small, although certain drugs used to treat lupus may also put patients at a higher risk for these diseases. Concerned patients should speak with their health care providers to discuss potential prevention methods, if available.

Some studies have also shown a slightly increased risk in lupus patients for cancer of the kidneys and liver. This is because the condition often affects these organs by causing inflammation. Patients may be able to lower this risk by following their doctors’ instructions and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

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Another connection between lupus and cancer is that aside from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and lung cancer, those with lupus seem to die less from other cancers than most other groups. This is not entirely understood. Patients should still maintain proper eating habits and a healthy lifestyle, as additional factors could play a large role in their overall cancer risk.

Some studies have disputed the link between lupus and cancer. Many researchers believe that having lupus does not increase the risk of cancers at all, but rest full blame instead on medications used to treat the condition. This has led to newer and potentially safer medications being developed, although their long-term safety has not been firmly established. Testing is being conducted to increase the safety and effectiveness of lupus medications. Whether there is a definitive link between the condition itself and cancer is still up for debate, although many researchers believe that a slight increase in risk does exist.

There may be additional indirect links between lupus and cancer. Many of these also include the use of medications. For instance, some treatments for lupus reduce fertility in women and sometimes men. This could induce a slightly increased risk for cancers of the reproductive system of women, since it has been shown that women who have never had children may have a higher risk. The risk associated with this, however, is generally very small, assuming a woman has no strong family history for gynecological cancer. Additionally, modern fertility treatments allow many women, even those with difficulties, to get pregnant if desired.

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ZipLine
Post 3

What about the fact that some anti-cancer medications like cyclophosphamide are used to treat symptoms of lupus disease? If some lupus medications increase the risks for cancer, then others reduce them. Technically, someone on anti-cancer medication should be less likely to develop cancer.

I think I agree that this topic ought to be left alone until there are some concrete findings about the connection between lupus and cancer. Correlation does not mean causation and we cannot say that lupus causes cancer or prevents cancer at this point.

SarahGen
Post 2

@ddljohn-- I have no idea if or how inflammation could lead to an increased risk for cancer.

I agree with the article that if there is a connection between lupus and cancer, it's due to lupus medications, not the disease itself. Immunosuppressant medications are one treatment for lupus. These drugs weaken the immune system to reduce the symptoms of lupus. I think this itself could increase the risk of cancer because if a cancer cell develops, a weak immune system is less likely to catch it and kill it before it spreads.

Nothing has been proven about the connection between lupus and cancer however. I think that lupus is already a stressful and difficult to manage condition. The last thing that people with lupus need is thoughts about cancer. I urge those with lupus to follow their treatments and stay away from stress because stress worsens lupus symptoms.

ddljohn
Post 1

If lupus as a disease increases the risk of certain cancers, does this mean that inflammation in general increases the risk of developing cancer? I don't quite understand.

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