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Lupus may increase the risk of cervical cancer istock

Women who suffer from lupus may have an increased risk of developing cervical cancer, scientists have said. The outcomes were worse if the patients were treated with immunosuppressant drugs rather than with antimalarial, the other possible drug used against lupus.

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that leads the immune system to cause inflammations of any organ and system in the body, but mainly involves the joints, kidneys and skin. Women are 10 times more commonly affected than men.

Previous studies had already examined the potential risk of cervical cancer in women affected by this chronic disease, but findings had for the most part been inconclusive.

Doubled risk of precancerous changes

In this latest research, presented at the European League Against Rheumatism Annual Congres, the scientists looked at a large group of female patients to measure with more accuracy the risk of them developing pre-malignant cervical changes, and potentially cervical cancer.

The scientists used data from national Swedish registers to conduct a nationwide cohort-study. Between 2006 and 2012, the scientists followed up 28,000 women, including 4,550 with lupus.

They found that this group was twice more likely to develop cervical dysplasia (a precancerous condition in which sees abnormal cell growth on the surface lining of the cervix) and cervical cancer than women with no lupus.

The importance of cervical screenings

While there is no cure to treat lupus for good, some drugs may relieve many of the symptoms, and reduce the chances of organ damage. They include an anti-malaria drug called hydroxychloroquine, anti-inflammatory medications and immunosuppressants – a group of medicines that suppress the action of the immune system.

However, this study found that the rate of cervical cancer varied depending on which method was used to treat lupus patients. The cancer risk was higher among those treated with systemic immune-suppressives, compared to those treated with antimalarials but no immunosuppressants.

The scientists will need to conduct further research in order to better understand the role of lupus treatment on cancer outcomes.

However, they point out the importance of continuing cervical cancer prevention, and of educating all women with lupus to do regular cervical screenings, regardless of whether the increased risk is due to disease severity or to treatment.