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Large Study from Norway Suggests People with MS May Have Increased Risk of Certain Cancers

June 29, 2019

  • Preliminary results of a large study in Norway compared the incidence of cancer among people with MS, their siblings, and the general population using health records.
  • Although the overall risk of cancer among individuals with MS was only 12-14% higher, the researchers reported statistically significant increased risks of respiratory, central nervous system, and urinary cancers. Siblings without MS were found to have higher risk of blood cancers than the general population.This study does not suggest that MS causes cancer.
  • These results were presented at the European Academy of Neurology Congress in Oslo, Norway, and should be considered preliminary. Future publication of the study in a peer-reviewed journal, and additional study in another large population to confirm the risk, should provide additional important details to help us understand the relationship between MS and cancers, and possible implications for people with MS and their family members.
  • These findings in a large population may point to the need for increased awareness and surveillance for cancer detection in individuals with MS and their family members.
DETAILS
Background: Multiple sclerosis involves abnormal immune responses that attack and injure tissues in the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord and optic nerve). Over the years there have been studies to determine whether people with MS have lower or higher risks of cancer, since cancers are normally identified and removed by the immune system before they have a chance to grow. These prior studies have shown mixed results. It is also known that some MS disease-modifying therapies can increase the risk of certain cancers because of their impacts on normal immune system surveillance activities.
 
The Study: In a presentation and press release from the European Academy of Neurology Congress in Oslo, Norway, Dr. Nina Grytten (Haukeland University Hospital, Bergen, Norway) and colleagues described a large study aimed at determining cancer risks among people with MS. The team retrieved health data from the Norwegian MS Registry, the Norwegian Cancer Registry, and other sources to compare the incidence of cancers among people with MS, their siblings, and the general population. This large study included records of 6,935 people with MS, 9,346 siblings without MS, and 38,055 people without MS from the general population, over a 58-year time period.
 
Results: Although the overall risk of cancer among individuals with MS was only 12-14% higher, the researchers reported that having MS was associated with statistically significant increased risks of respiratory cancer (66% increased risk), central nervous system cancers (52% increased risk), and urinary cancer (51% increased risk). Siblings without MS were found to have higher risk of blood cancers (myeloma, lymphoma, leukemia) than the general population. No information was provided about the use of disease-modifying therapies or other possible contributing factors in people included in this study. This study does not suggest that MS causes cancer.
 
Conclusions: These results were presented at the European Academy of Neurology Congress in Oslo, Norway, and should be considered preliminary. These findings in a large population may point to the need for increased awareness and surveillance for cancer detection in individuals with MS and their family members.     Future publication of the study in a peer-reviewed journal, and additional study in another large population to confirm the risk, should provide additional important details to help us understand the relationship between MS and cancers, and possible implications for people with MS and their family members. 
 
 

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. There is currently no cure for MS. Symptoms vary from person to person and range from numbness and tingling, to mobility challenges, blindness and paralysis. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and it affects women three times more than men.

About the National Multiple Sclerosis Society

The National MS Society, founded in 1946, funds cutting-edge research, drives change through advocacy, and provides programs and services to help people affected by MS live their best lives. Connect to learn more and get involved: nationalMSsociety.org, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube or 1-800-344-4867.

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