MS, Cancer Risk and a Trip to the Dentist. What’s the Connection?

MS, Cancer Risk and a Trip to the Dentist. What’s the Connection?


I made a trip to the dentist today. What does that have to do with multiple sclerosis, you ask? Stay with me. We’ll get there.

But first, let me tell you about a weekend conference that my local chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society held recently. One of the conference sessions was on the subject of MS “wellness.” It got into things like diet, exercise and emotional well-being. Basic,”take care of yourself” stuff that we’ve all heard over the years.

But two things jumped out at me. One was when the presenter told us that “attending to your lifestyle is just as important as Disease Modifying Therapies” in dealing with MS. Second, when she reported that people with MS tend to delay diagnosis and treatment of other conditions.

One disease at a time, please

That does make sense. “I’ve got MS,” we think. “God isn’t gonna lay any other bad medical stuff on me.” And some of that thinking might be right. A Canadian study from 2012 reviewed cases of MS patients who also had cancer. The University of British Columbia researchers wanted to know whether having MS changed the risk of whether that person would also be diagnosed with cancer.  (Previous studies had shown: 1. an increased cancer risk, 2. a lower cancer risk, and 3. no change in risk).

Good news … bad news

The results of this study, published in the journal Brain, showed that there was, overall, a reduced cancer risk in people with MS.  (And this was particularly true for colorectal cancer).  At the same time, the researchers found evidence that four of the major cancer types — breast, prostate, lung and colorectal — were diagnosed later in patients who had MS than in people without MS.  That resulted in tumors that were larger then would be expected when the cancer was diagnosed.

Diagnostic neglect

The researchers believed this could have been due to why they called “diagnostic neglect.”  They suggest that “cancer detection may be compromised when a patient has a chronic disease such as multiple sclerosis due to some similarities in symptoms” between MS and the cancer.  They also note there is evidence that women with physical disabilities, such as MS, attend cervical screening tests less frequently than their peers without multiple sclerosis.

At our weekend MS conference, our presenter suggested that, as I said earlier, some of us may just have the attitude that we’ve already paid our dues and, because of that, we too frequently deny that something else might be wrong with our bodies.

But, what about the dentist?

OK, back to the dentist.  I’d discovered a white spot on the tip of my tongue a few months ago.  I’d feared that it was tongue cancer but I’d not done anything about it.  Maybe it was fear or maybe I was falling into that diagnostic neglect trap.  In any event, it was the session at the weekend conference — the comment that MS patients tend to delay treatment of other diseases — that got me into my dentist’s chair.

And I learned that the spot on my tongue was nothing serious.  Whew.

In the future I’ll be guarding against allowing diagnostic neglect turn something minor into something major.  I hope that you won’t let that happen, either.

(You can read more of my columns on my personal blog:

Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


    • Ed Tobias says:

      Hi Carol,

      Thanks for your comment.

      I was diagnosed in 1980 and since them I’ve tried to find a balance between being diligent about my health and being paranoid about it. So far it’s been a successful approach.


  1. Rochelle says:

    Im surviving Multiple Sclerosis by first due in part my faith in God. And secondly a excellent neurology team as well my medical Dr. And I’m so looking forward to my upcoming infusion of ocrelizumab. And I believe whole heartedly this drug as well as proper diet rest exercise n mental health are key to my continued survival. Thank you, Rochelle Estrada.

  2. Maria Wieand says:

    My MS is my first priority as is my general health in all. I’m very concience of getting all if my check ups on time. My biggest concern with dental is why is it not considered part of our medical health along with all the rest of the parts of our body, as should be our eyes. Who decided we don’t cover these two areas in our medical health well being? I bring this to everyone attention because after working in the dental field for 10 years and knowing the corollation of bacteria in the cavity of the mouth travels directly into the blood stream and can and will cause heart issues for some patients makes me extremely furious about health care.
    In september of 2015, I saw a dentist and at the time my MS was having a major flare up and my white blood counts were very low, but I wasn’t 100% aware of that until I went to the dentist. Hearing my PSR scores with numbers in the 5, 6 range rather than 1, 2 or at most a 3, (Like I have always been in the past) made me very aware that something wasn’t right. So my point is all areas of the body are related to any long term disease and should be treated regularly to avoid additional issues.

    • Ed Tobias says:

      Hi Maria,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. You’re absolutely right, oral health is a very important part of everyone’s overall health. After neglecting my teeth for many years, several years ago I got onto track with a check-up every six months. The weekend MS event didn’t get me into the dentist chair…it just got me there sooner than usual.

      I wish that dental and eye coverage was a part of Medicare coverage in the U.S. Maybe someday.


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