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/2013/01/08/annrheumdis-2012-202099.abstract

Related Stories

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

Researchers identify source of opioids' side effects

January 17, 2017

A commercially available drug may help drastically reduce two side effects of opioid painkillers—a growing tolerance and a paradoxical increased sensitivity to pain—without affecting the drugs' ability to reduce pain, ...

CVS generic competitor to EpiPen, sold at a 6th the price

January 12, 2017

CVS is now selling a rival, generic version of Mylan's EpiPen at about a sixth of its price, just months after the maker of the life-saving allergy treatment was eviscerated before Congress because of its soaring cost to ...

Many misuse OTC sleep aids: survey

December 29, 2016

(HealthDay)—People struggling with insomnia often turn to non-prescription sleep remedies that may be habit-forming and are only intended for short-term use, according to a new Consumer Reports survey.

The pill won't kill your sexual desire, researchers say

December 15, 2016

Taking the pill doesn't lower your sexual desire, contrary to popular belief, according to research published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. The authors of the research, from the University of Kentucky and Indiana University ...

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.