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.

  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?

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