Lifetime Cancer Risk Lower in MS Patients Than General Public, Study Reports

Lifetime Cancer Risk Lower in MS Patients Than General Public, Study Reports

People with multiple sclerosis (MS) have a lower overall lifetime risk of cancer relative to a general population matched by area, age, sex and habits like tobacco use and alcohol consumption, new research reports, suggesting this lesser risk might be due to the nature of MS itself or to disease modifying therapies used by patients.

The study, “Decreased prevalence of cancer in patients with multiple sclerosis: A case-control study,” was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

The immune system is known to play a large role in both MS and cancer, leading some scientists to suggest that a disease like MS would modify the risk of cancer.

Some argue that the highly active immune system seen in MS patients works to improve cancer surveillance and decrease cancer risk. But others point to the disease-modifying treatments used by MS patients, particularly immunosuppressives, as increasing cancer risk in this population.

Studies have shown conflicting results, with some indicating a higher cancer risk and others a lower risk in MS patients.But most of these studies do not take into account lifestyle factors associated with cancer development, including alcohol and tobacco use.

Researchers at the Université Clermont Auvergne, in France, set out to better determine lifetime cancer prevalence in MS patients.

They conducted a case-control study by self-administered questionnaire; in total, 1107 responses were used for the analysis. The same survey was also given to  1,568 healthy people, serving as controls, in the Auvergne region. Age, gender, and history of smoking and alcohol use were taken into account.

Results showed that 7.32 percent of MS patients had been treated fro cancer, whereas the disease affected 12.63 percent of those in the control group. Cancer frequency by type was not part of the study, but the most prevalent cancer reported in patients was breast cancer, which the researchers said “would be expected in a population of middle-aged women.”

Statistical analysis found that MS patients, overall, were 37 percent less likely to develop cancer compared to the control group — and neither DMT use, including immunosuppressants, nor disease course appeared to increase cancer risk among patients.

“MS was associated with a reduced overall cancer risk,” the researchers wrote. “Classical immunomodulator (beta-interferons and glatiramer acetate) and immunosuppressant use was not associated with an increased overall cancer risk, but there is not sufficient data to draw firm conclusions.”

This lower risk, the team wrote, might be due to the physiological nature of MS itself. The disease is a product of autoimmunity — referring to the hyper-sensitivity of the immune system to self-antigens — and this could lead to increased immune vigilance against cancer cells.

It might also be linked to the very use of DMTs. In fact, the researchers noted that several DMTs are currently being investigated for potential anti-tumor activity, including dimethyl fumarate (an approved MS treatment, under the brand name Tecfidera) in colon cancers, fingolimod (brand name, Gilenya) in various cancers, and teriflunomide (brand name, Aubagio) in triple-negative breast cancers.


  1. Bill says:

    Though this has promise for treating people with cancer, it is of little relevance for people with MS. I would give up MS in a minute to be back in the general population with the normal cancer risk.

    • Allison says:

      Yeah, right, in a heartbeat. It is hugely relevant, however, if the immuno-modulating/suppressing agents are not increasing risk of cancer. News to me.
      I take Gilenya-fingolomid, which reportedly has raised skin cancer diagnoses. I’m awaiting biopsy results on a funky skin growth now!

  2. Astrid says:

    Well I don’t agree… I would rather have a long life living with MS than a relatively shorter one due to cancer.. and I talk from my own experience..
    my husband and daughter also prefer having me around finding my way living with MS, than seeing me die of cancer
    So good news it is.

  3. Jumpytrader says:

    Makes more sense to me that the highly reactive immune response of Ms patients is the most likely protection against cancer as well as Chicken Pox/Shingles virus and that immune suppressants increase the risk of those and other diseases!
    has any one done a study of how blood types like type O may be more inclined to MS since type O blood types are known to be more reactive.
    It would be nice to know the ratio of MS to the different blood type populations.
    I also wonder about child hood shots and REACTIONS TO THOSE VACINATIONS BY BLOOD TYPE.
    Could it be that the more reactive blood types trigger the Start of MS when they over react to the combined multiple Vacinations given to children at such a young age? !!!
    I believe that is what happened to my son. When he was given the Combined shots his system produced a golf ball size lump on his thigh that took over 2 years to go down and now at age 36 he has a dent there.
    Does any one know where I could find that kind of data?

    • Jim says:

      I don’t know where you can find that kind of data, but it would be very interesting. I am type O positive. You have some very interesting thoughts.

      • Ella says:

        Another type O positive here. So very interesting, data collection of this type would surely have been undertaken decades ago??

  4. Louiedidi says:

    My wife has both MS (33yrs) and cancer/leukemia (9yrs) so she bucks the trend unfortunately.

    Stats like this can be interesting, but only an basic indicator. So many factors to consider so that it would be impossible to determine real outcomes from this type of survey. Survey doesn’t consider smoking and alcohol risk factors, but what about epi-genetic data, environment, stress, nutrition, psychology and support etc., which would be significant impact on outcomes?

    • Allison says:

      How tough, incredibly, for your family. There are so many factors, as you point out, in who gets what but In any case don’t think there’s enough research yet to say your wife “bucked the ‘trend’.” I have MS and am awaiting biopsy results, knowing taking Gilenya may have boosted my risk of skin cancer. I know a woman with MS who later was diagnosed with breast cancer. Best wishes in living with these conditions as well as possible.

  5. Christine says:

    If my TECFIDERA helps my chances in a colon cancer full family than I’ll gladly recommend it to all of them despite the price. There are $$ programs beyond insurance. We watched Grampa die of this. It’s nothing that I would give up my ms for.

  6. I’d rather have MS even though I’m laying down most of the time due to the SI joint inflammation and sacroiliitis. I just lost a friend at age 52 and she had cancer. I’m happy to see no increase in taking Copaxone due to the immunmodolating,sic, you know what I mean.

    My mother and brother passed from cancer and it was a horrible way to go. My mother was 60 and my brother was 57. So I was afraid taking something that messes with my immune system but reading this makes me feel better.

    Thanks everyone for your stories.

  7. Louise says:

    I can only go by my personal experience and say my brother diagnosed with MS in 2012 and diagnosed with liver and colon cancer in 2018 , the most bravest man I know a true warrior and still battled everyday to stay here for his two young children, his words he would rather of been in a wheelchair with ms to watch his two children grow up.. he passed 5 months later age 40.

  8. I have metastatic breast cancer. I am now also wondering if I also have MS. I get dizzy when standing, which obviously messes with my balance. My hands will twist in awkward and painful positions,though not often, and I have vision problems. I was diagnosed with intermittent exotropia, which is the opposite of being cross-eyed. My eyes move horizontally, but they also move vertically. I also have Rosecea and am gluten sensitive. I had all three polio viruses in 1952 at the age of five, spinal, lung and muscular. It truly is a miracle that I survived all three viruses. I am one of the few people in the world that did. I have had asthma and was told forty years ago that I am a borderline diabetic. Diabetes is in our family. I also have vasomotor rhinitis. In other words, my immune system has been through a lot. I’m thinking that I need to be evaluated for the MS. I am also on strong drugs for the cancer, Ibrance and an aromatase inhibitor, so they could be playing a part.
    I have a very good friend with MS. Part of me is thankful for my immune system and part of me is frustrated because it seems to overreact to almost everything. I am almost 72 so I am grateful to still be here.

  9. Gerald Levy (Dr) says:

    I was a research construct psychologist in my working life and have had MS for 20 plus years, and am being “fast tracked” for possible bladder cancer. As a researcher, I hope I tried to use the right technique to investigate a particular phenomena and not be influenced by those funding the research exercise. Having developed MS my focus of interest has changed somewhat. What concerns me is the lack of true multidisciplinary input on most MS research. This is, I suspect relevant to vast amounts of “medical” research. Social, lifestyle,environmental, psychological et al areas are, I fear overlooked or minimised by research that is somewhat focused “down a microscope” and invariably led by medics and funded by pharma companies. It would be ironic if in x years when MS has been cured, the cause was exposure to soot or plastic or stress! Just to illustrate the point, the magnificent research effort durring WW2 to break the Enigma code by British code breakers could perhaps have been much easier (and much, much quicker) if someone (not a mathematician) had stood back and investigated other aspects of the Enigma machine. It appears the machine (and therefore its workings) was patented in New York and was therefore in the public domain. Sometimes it is perhaps worth thinking outside the norm and learning lessons from any and everyone?

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