Autoimmune disease may increase your risk for cancer, Elizabeth Tracey reports


Autoimmune diseases, where the body’s immune system attacks parts of the body, are common. Now the UK Biobank study finds that such conditions also increase someone’s risk to develop cancer. William Nelson, director of the Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, reviews the data.

Nelson: Overall, that is about a six to eight percent increased risk for cancer in the setting of these autoimmune diseases. They did look at things that we already knew a lot about. The risk for cancer in a particular organ that is affected by the autoimmune disease so things like ulcerative colitis has been known forever to have an association with colorectal cancer. If you look at people who had an immune related diseases in this cohort they were more likely to smoke, have a higher body mass index, have lower physical activity, eat processed meats and other foods, have a low education level, all of which are associated with an increased risk for cancer.  :32

Nelson says the exact mechanism whereby autoimmunity promotes cancer isn’t known, but says for now following screening recommendations is a good idea. At Johns Hopkins, I’m Elizabeth Tracey.