Research: Lupus drugs carry no significant cancer risk for patients

January 24, 2013

People who take immunosuppressive drugs to treat lupus do not necessarily increase their cancer risk according to new research led by scientists at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC). This landmark study, which was published in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases this month, addresses long-standing fears of a link between lupus medication and cancer.

(SLE), commonly known as lupus, is an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system attacks healthy tissue such as the skin, joints, kidneys and the brain, leading to inflammation and lesions. The disease affects about 1 in 2000 Canadians, particularly women.

Previous research has suggested that have an increased risk of developing cancer, particularly lymphoma. Lymphoma is a type of that occurs when cells called lymphocytes, which usually help protect the body from infection and disease, begin growing and multiplying uncontrollably leading to tumor growth.

"Treatment for Lupus consists largely of immunosuppressive medications, which lower the body's immune response," explains Dr. Sasha Bernatsky, first and corresponding author of the study, who is a researcher within the Divisions of and Rheumatology at the RI-MUHC and at McGill University.

According to Dr. Ann E. Clarke, director of the MUHC lupus clinic and study co-lead, the fear of developing cancer among Lupus patients has been so great that some were reluctant to take their medication and others stopped altogether. The international study involved 75 lupus patients with lymphoma from different centres around the world and nearly 5,000 cancer-free lupus patients as a control.

Researchers studied most of the drugs commonly used to treat SLE including cyclophosphamide, a drug reserved for severe lupus cases and other chronic inflammatory rheumatic diseases.

The results showed that the risk for lymphoma in lupus patients exposed to cyclophosphamide was less than 0.1% per year. In addition, no clear association was observed between lupus disease activity and lymphoma risk.

"People have been wondering for a long time whether the medications were to blame and the results are reassuring, suggesting that most lymphoma cases in SLE are not triggered by drug exposures," says Dr. Bernatsky.

"This is very good news that associated with lupus medication is relatively low," said Louise Bergeron, who has been living with lupus for 12 years.

"It reassures me, especially if I need to take more effective immunosuppressive treatments in the coming years."

Future research will focus on the genetic profiles of lupus patients and what impact that can have on the interaction between medication exposure and lymphoma risk in lupus.

Explore further: Chronic exposure to staph bacteria may be risk factor for lupus, study finds

More information: ard.bmj.com/content/early/2013 … 2012-202099.abstract

Related Stories

Chronic exposure to staph bacteria may be risk factor for lupus, study finds

August 8, 2012
Chronic exposure to even small amounts of staph bacteria could be a risk factor for the chronic inflammatory disease lupus, Mayo Clinic research shows. Staph, short for Staphylococcus aureus, is a germ commonly found on the ...

Continued treatment for lupus may boost survival of those patients with end-stage kidney disease

September 20, 2011
Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have shown that close supervision by rheumatologists and the use of immunosuppressant drugs improve the survival of lupus patients with end-stage kidney ...

Indigenous Australians vulnerable to lupus

December 14, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—A new study is currently exploring why Indigenous Australians (IA) suffer more frequently and severely from lupus than non-Indigenous Australians (NIA).

Recommended for you

Cholesterol-lowering drugs may fight infectious disease

August 21, 2017
That statin you've been taking to lower your risk of heart attack or stroke may one day pull double duty, providing protection against a whole host of infectious diseases, including typhoid fever, chlamydia, and malaria.

Data revealed under FOI shows benefits of multiple sclerosis drug currently blocked by regulators

August 17, 2017
A drug that is blocked by the EU regulatory system has now been found to improve the quality of life of people with multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a study by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).

Opioids overused in migraine treatment, regardless of race, study finds

August 17, 2017
African-Americans are more likely to experience debilitating migraine headaches than whites, but a new study probing the issue found no evidence of racial disparities in treatment practices.

Finding better ways to reduce serious drug side effects

August 14, 2017
Many of the medicines we depend on to treat disease—and even to save our lives—pose potentially serious risks along with their benefits. Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that about ...

Ultrasound-triggered liposomes for on-demand, local anesthesia

August 10, 2017
Researchers at Boston Children's Hospital have found a new way to non-invasively relieve pain at local sites in the body; such systems could one day improve pain management by replacing addictive opioids and short-lasting ...

Independent pharmacies and online coupons help patients save money on drugs

August 8, 2017
Uninsured patients or those with limited prescription drug coverage can save significant money by buying their drugs at independent pharmacies instead of big box, grocery or chain drug stores and by using discount coupons, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.