Because lupus and lymphoma both affect your immune system, they share some symptoms and can sometimes be mistaken for each other. Having lupus may also increase your risk of lymphoma.

Lupus is a disease that affects your immune system. It causes your body to attack your organs, tissues, and cells. Lupus can increase your risk of other conditions, including certain cancers like lymphoma.

Lymphoma is a cancer of the white blood cells, which are also part of your immune system. There are many types of lymphoma. They’re usually categorized as either Hodgkin’s lymphoma (HL) or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL).

Lupus may increase your risk of HL or NHL, though NHL appears to be more closely linked to lupus. People in the early stages of NHL may also be more likely to develop lupus, although more research is needed to understand why.

Keep reading to learn more about lupus and lymphoma and how they’re linked.

Lupus can increase your risk of lymphoma and some other types of cancer by as much as four to seven times. Although more research is needed to understand the exact relationship between lupus and lymphoma, both conditions are related to problems with your immune system.

Researchers think it may be partly due to some lupus medications that suppress your body’s immune response. A weak immune system can allow cancer to grow or spread. Lupus also causes chronic inflammation, which is linked to a higher risk of some cancers and other chronic conditions.

A 2018 review of 24 studies found lupus can increase the risk of as many as 16 other types of cancer. But it’s not linked to a higher risk of many common cancers, such as breast, uterine, pancreatic, or brain cancer. It’s even linked to a lower risk of some cancers.

Just because there’s an increased risk doesn’t mean you will develop cancer if you have lupus. Healthcare professionals usually screen for cancer as part of lupus treatment.

Some organizations, such as the Lupus Foundation of America, say the study results should just be a reminder to be mindful of your health if you’re living with lupus.

Cancers associated with lupus

Lupus is associated with an increased risk of several cancers and a lower risk of others.

According to a 2018 review, lupus may increase the risk of:

Lupus may decrease the risk of:

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Some research suggests people in the early stages of NHL may be more likely to develop lupus.

More research is needed to understand why, but some experts think the two conditions develop from shared factors, with lymphoma simply developing first.

Lymphoma may also affect your immune system in ways that encourage the development of lupus and other autoimmune diseases.

Lupus can have many symptoms, but some of the most common are:

  • fevers without a clear cause
  • extreme tiredness
  • rashes
  • joint pain and swelling

Sometimes, the symptoms of lupus can overlap with the symptoms of lymphoma.

For example, swollen lymph nodes are one of the most common lymphoma symptoms, but they can also be a lupus symptom.

Lymph nodes are glands that store your white blood cells and can also sometimes make them. Lymph nodes are clustered in your neck, groin, armpit, and the center of your chest and abdomen.

Other lymphoma symptoms include:

  • fever
  • unexplained weight loss
  • chest or abdominal pain

Can lymphoma be misdiagnosed as lupus?

Because lupus and lymphoma have some symptoms in common, one can sometimes be mistaken for the other.

Fever and swollen lymph nodes are common symptoms of both conditions. Even blood tests can reveal similar findings for lupus and early lymphoma, according to a 2017 review.

To give you the correct diagnosis, doctors may order a lymph node biopsy or peripheral blood smear to confirm the presence of lymphoma cells.

Can lupus be misdiagnosed as lymphoma?

It’s less common for doctors to misdiagnose lupus as lymphoma, but it can happen.

Experts sometimes call lupus “the great imitator” because its symptoms can mimic many other conditions. This can make diagnosis challenging. In a 2021 study, the average time to arrive at a lupus diagnosis was almost 4 years.

If you have lupus and develop lymphoma, early treatment is essential. Your treatment will depend on the type of lymphoma you have.

NHL treatment often involves a chemotherapy regimen called R-CHOP. It includes the following drugs:

Treatments for HL may include radiation after a chemotherapy regimen called ABVD, which includes:

  • doxorubicin (Adriamycin)
  • bleomycin (Blenoxane)
  • vinblastine (Velban)
  • dacarbazine (DTIC)

Researchers are also looking into stem cell transplants to cure lymphoma and lupus.

Lupus has a survival rate of 85–90% within the first 10 years after diagnosis. But lymphoma with lupus can affect your outlook. Early diagnosis is vital.

A 2017 literature review found that for people with both lupus and lymphoma, outcomes depend on the stage at which they receive a lymphoma diagnosis. At later stages, outcomes tend to be worse.

People with lupus may be more likely to develop lymphoma and some other types of cancer. People with lymphoma may also be more likely to receive a diagnosis of lupus, especially in the early stages.

Lupus and lymphoma both affect your immune system. Researchers are still trying to understand the relationship between the two.

Because they share some common symptoms, they can sometimes be mistaken for each other. Your doctor may order extra tests to ensure you get the correct diagnosis.

If you have both conditions, your outcome may depend on the stage at which lymphoma is diagnosed, so early detection is vital.