Lupus may increase the risk of some types of cancer, such as lymphoma, while decreasing the risk of other types.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), commonly known as lupus, appears to have a complex relationship with cancer risk. It can increase the risk for some types of cancer but decrease it for others.

If you’re living with both lupus and cancer, it’s important to understand the relationship between them to help ensure you receive the best possible care.

The relationship between lupus and cancer risk is an area of ongoing research.

Factors — such as genetics, immune system dysfunction, and chronic inflammation — may contribute to the complex interplay between SLE and cancer risk.

A 2022 research analysis of 48 studies with 247,575 participants found that SLE was linked to an increased risk of overall cancer and cancer-related death. Lupus was also identified as a risk factor for 17 specific cancer types, particularly lymphoma cases.

Lupus medication and cancer risk

Some medications used to treat lupus, particularly immunosuppressive drugs and certain biologics, may alter the risk of certain types of cancer.

In a 2016 study of 14,842 SLE participants, researchers found that a higher cumulative dose of cyclophosphamide (CYC) was associated with an increased risk of cancer.

In contrast, a lower cumulative dose of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) was linked to a decreased risk of cancer. These associations were found to be dose-dependent.

What cancers are associated with lupus?

A 2018 research review suggests that SLE is associated with an increased risk of developing several types of cancer, including:

However, SLE was found to reduce the risk of prostate cancer and cutaneous melanoma.

The management of SLE and cancer, when they co-occur, can be complex and often requires a multidisciplinary approach. Treatment decisions should consider the specific type and stage of cancer, the severity of SLE, and someone’s overall health.

Here are some key considerations:

  • Cancer treatment: The primary focus is usually on treating the cancer. This may involve surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapies, or immunotherapy, depending on the type and stage of cancer. However, treatments should be thoroughly discussed with all members of your healthcare team to ensure the best results.
  • SLE management: People with SLE will need ongoing management of their autoimmune disease. This typically involves immunosuppressive medications to manage lupus activity. It’s crucial to strike a balance between managing SLE and not compromising the body’s ability to fight cancer.
  • Supportive care: Managing symptoms and side effects, such as pain, fatigue, and psychological distress, is crucial. Supportive care services include pain management, counseling, and palliative care. They may be incorporated into your overall treatment plan.

Overall, balancing the treatment of both cancer and lupus can be complex, as medications used to manage autoimmune diseases can interact with cancer risk.

Medications like immunosuppressants that are commonly prescribed for autoimmune conditions may increase the risk of certain cancers, particularly lymphomas and blood-related malignancies.

This risk varies among people and depends on factors such as the specific autoimmune disease, duration of medication use, and other personal risk factors. Regular monitoring and screenings are essential for early detection of cancer.

Information presented at the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) Convergence 2021 revealed that people with both breast cancer and SLE have higher mortality risks than those with breast cancer alone.

Their research found that women with SLE and breast cancer had a 5-year overall survival rate of 74%. For people with breast cancer alone, it was 86%.

Still, cancer survival rates are complex. They will vary between the cancer you have and your overall health. If you have questions about the expected survival rate of your cancer, reach out to your doctor or oncology team.

You’re not alone

If you or someone you love is dealing with lupus and cancer, you’re not alone. Coping with these conditions can be emotionally challenging, and seeking support is crucial.

Reach out to healthcare professionals, support groups, or mental health services to find guidance and emotional assistance tailored to your needs.

Here are some groups and support resources for people dealing with lupus and cancer:

  • Lupus Foundation of America: This organization provides information, support, and resources for people with lupus.
  • Cancer Support Community: A national network that offers support, education, and hope to people affected by cancer.
  • American Cancer Society: The ACS offers a wide range of programs and services, including transportation assistance, lodging, and support for people with cancer. They also have a helpline for information and support.
  • CancerCare: A national organization that provides free professional support services for anyone affected by cancer. They offer counseling, support groups, and educational resources.
  • Lupus Research Alliance: This organization focuses on funding research and provides resources to help those living with lupus.
  • Online support groups: There are various online communities and social media groups where anyone can share their experiences and provide support. Examples include Inspire’s Lupus Support Community and the Cancer Survivors Network.
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The relationship between lupus and cancer is complex and multifaceted. While there’s evidence to suggest that people with lupus may have an increased risk of certain cancers, especially hematologic and lung cancers, the overall risk remains relatively low.

Ultimately, advancements in research and medical care are continuously improving our understanding of these conditions and enhancing treatment options.

With the right support, resources, and a proactive approach to healthcare, you can manage your health effectively and improve your quality of life while living with lupus and, if needed, navigating a cancer diagnosis.