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Lupus Blog & Current Events

Does Having Lupus Increase Cancer Risk?

Thursday, August 08, 2019
By:  Lance Wong


Living with lupus is challenging, but an essential part of living with lupus is knowing the risks associated with lupus and the precautions needed to minimize those risks.

A study conducted in 2018 by Song et al. called “The risks of cancer development in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) patients: a systematic review and meta-analysis” analyzed data from previous publications to find associations between lupus and cancer. They found that patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) were at a higher risk for some types of cancer including cancer of the blood (non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia, multiple myeloma), gastrointestinal (esophagus, gastric, hepatobiliary), genitourinary (cervix, vagina/vulva, renal, bladder), but were at a decreased risk for prostate cancer and cutaneous melanoma. The increased risks may be due to lupus inflammation in the respective tissues. They also found that there was no significant association between lupus and common cancers such as cancer in the breast, uterus, ovaries, pancreas, colon, and brain. Lung cancer risk was also elevated, but this may be because of other risk factors such as smoking.

Regardless of these increased risks of cancer in lupus patients, some studies show that lupus patients undergo cancer screenings equally or even less than the general population. It is very important that a lupus patient is screened regularly for cancer, so talk to your doctor about lupus and associated cancers and take cancer screenings as often as they recommend.

It is essential for someone living with lupus to have healthy habits. Risk factors such as smoking, obesity, hormone replacement therapy, and exposure to immunosuppressive medications will further increase the risk of cancer. Living a healthy lifestyle that involves eating well and exercising will be essential to control obesity and lower the risk for certain cancers. Lupus patients should also try to avoid sunlight as exposure could cause flare-ups and increase the risk of skin cancer. To avoid sunlight try to stay indoors and use a sunscreen with an SPF higher than 85 to protect you from UV rays. Since sun avoidance may lead to vitamin D deficiency, it is important for patients to get enough vitamin D through supplementation to reduce inflammation and prevent other complications.


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