Individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS) are less likely to develop cancer, according to researchers.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia and Vancouver Coastal Health, is published in the journal Brain.

Lead author of the study Elaine Kingwell, a postdoctoral fellow in the UBC Faculty of Medicine and Brain Research Center at UBC and VCH Research Institute, explained:

“Because the immune system plays important roles in both cancer and MS, we wanted to know whether the risk of cancer is different for people with MS. Not only did MS patients have a lower overall cancer risk, the risk for colorectal cancer in particular was significantly lower.”

After comparing diagnoses of cancer in MS patients in British Columbia with those of the general public, the researchers discovered that MS patients were less likely to develop cancer. In particular MS patients had a lower risk of developing colorectal cancer. However, the team found that these patients had a slightly increased risk of developing brain and bladder cancer, although this increase was not significant. Furthermore, the risk for non-melanoma skin cancer was significantly higher among patients with relapsing-onset MS.

The researchers note that further studies are required in order to understand why MS patients have a reduced overall risk of developing cancer.

The researchers also found that MS patients who developed cancer usually had larger tumors at time of diagnosis. They state that more researcher is needed to find out why some tumors might be caught later in individuals with MS.

Helen Tremlett, associate professor in the UBC Faculty of Medicine, said: “Because the symptoms of MS can be broad and include feelings of fatigue, it’s possible the symptoms of cancer are being masked or overlooked.”

Tremlett states that MS patients and their physicians should continue to follow cancer screening guidelines, regardless of the study findings. A follow-up study is planned in order for the researchers to determine if cancer mortality rates are altered in MS patients.

Written by Grace Rattue