Healthy Living

Having Multiple Sclerosis May Reduce Cancer Risk

Having Multiple Sclerosis May Reduce Cancer Risk

What if having a disease protected someone from cancer? That's what scientists have found in people who have multiple sclerosis. Based on population studies, people who had multiple sclerosis tended to have a lower overall lifetime risk of developing cancer.

This was in comparison to the rest of the population, after matching patients based on geographic location, age, gender, and smoking or alcohol habits.

It may seem like a crazy idea to think that having a serious illness could protect you from another very serious illness. But scientists share with us that there might be a reasonable explanation for this bizarre phenomenon. Because cancer and multiple sclerosis both have a connection with the immune system, it's likely that it's the immune system that harbors the connection between these two very different, but serious, diseases.

Scientists are still puzzled as to what exactly reduces cancer risk

It's unclear whether multiple sclerosis itself or the medications that treat it are what contribute to this reduced cancer risk. However, since the immune system plays a huge role in both cancer and multiple sclerosis, scientists believe that it's totally plausible that having multiple sclerosis could alter cancer risk. As an autoimmune condition, multiple sclerosis directs a haywire, overactive immune system against someone's own nerves and tissues. It could be that this same hypervigilant immune system is also eradicating cancer more readily than in healthy individuals.

Immunosuppressants used to treat multiple sclerosis should, in theory, increase cancer risk

However, it's interesting that people with multiple sclerosis tend to take immunosuppressants. Some people argue that these medications should actually have the opposite effect of increasing your cancer risk. Immunosuppressants commonly used by these patients tend to weaken the immune system, thereby also decreasing the body's surveillance of cancerous cells. There have been studies that side with both opinions, and the scientific community hasn't been able to make any conclusions just yet.

A lot of the current studies regarding this link are flawed because they overlook important factors

The problem with many of these studies is that there are factors researchers did not consider. A lot of environmental factors, as well as lifestyle factors, can contribute to a person's risk of getting cancer. Some important ones that were often overlooked included smoking and alcohol use.

A recent study decided to investigate this link between multiple sclerosis and cancer while accommodating for cancer-associated factors

Researchers wanted to do a more thorough job and investigate the relationship that exists between cancer and multiple sclerosis. In France at the Universite Clermont Auvergne, scientists decided to conduct a case-control study based on a self-administered questionnaire.

Over 1,000 responses to the questionnaire were collected, and analysis was done to determine cancer risk compared to healthy people. The same survey was given to 1568 healthy people, so that age, gender, smoking, and alcohol habits could be accounted for.

Read on to learn more about the results of this important study, and what this means for people living with multiple sclerosis who are concerned about their cancer risk.