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What Is Lupus?

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  • When you have lupus, your immune system attacks healthy tissue such as in your skin or kidneys
  • Having a weakened immune system due to lupus leaves your body open to antigens, which can lead to more complications

Your immune system is composed of cells and organs that protect your body from harmful foreign attackers (also known as antigens), such as bacteria and viruses. Your white blood cells are important components of this system, traveling around your body to kill any invaders that may compromise your health.1

The impressive thing about white blood cells is their ability to remember antigens. If you've been struck with an illness before and have recovered from it, your white blood cells have antibodies stored specific to that disease, ready to use again if the same attacker attempts to enter your body.2

But when you have lupus , your immune system does the opposite, attacking healthy tissue such as your skin or kidneys. This is why it's called an autoimmune disease — "autos" is Greek for "self."3 In short, lupus turns your immune system against your own body.

Is Lupus Cancer?

Lupus is not a form of cancer because it affects your immune system. With cancer, malignant tissues grow quickly and can spread to neighboring tissues. Though lupus and cancer may be different diseases, you can still get both of them at the same time.4

Lupus Is Linked to a Higher Risk of Cancer

According to the Johns Hopkins Lupus Center, "autoimmune diseases are linked to an increased risk of certain types of cancer," and with lupus, the risk is actually greatest during the earlier stages of the disease. While researchers are not entirely sure of the relation between lupus and cancer, the findings show a common thread between lupus and some types of cancer, such as:5

Lymphoma — Lupus patients have a higher risk of developing both Hodgkin's and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.6 Researchers believe that lymphoma can result from the overstimulation and attack of white blood cells on healthy tissue caused by lupus, along with the patient's weakened immune system. It is also suggested that immunosuppressive drugs can increase the risk of lymphoma.

Lung cancer — Many lupus patients  who develop lung cancer are smokers.7 Aside from increasing your risk of developing lung cancer, smoking increases your risk for cardiovascular disease.8 Another important thing to note is that smoking  prevents lupus medications like Plaquenil from working properly.9 It goes without saying that you should not smoke at all, even if you're not exhibiting symptoms of lupus.

Cervical cancer — Women with lupus have a higher risk of developing cervical cancer.10 One suggested reason is that the use of immunosuppressive medication to treat lupus lowers the defense mechanism to fight off the human papilloma virus (HPV), a virus related to cervical cancer.11

Your Immune System: The Common Factor Between Lupus and Cancer

The connection between lupus and cancer isn't fully explainable yet due to the minimal amount of research. But based on what has been published already, it's evident that your immune system is likely to connect the link between lupus and cancer.

A weakened immune system due to lupus leaves your body open to antigens, which can lead to more complications. The risk of getting cancer is exacerbated further if you're taking immunosuppressive medication. To lower your risk of lupus and other illnesses, it's important to eat a healthy diet  and follow lifestyle habits that can help build up your immune system.

MORE ABOUT LUPUS

Lupus: Introduction

What Is Lupus?

Lupus Types

Lupus Symptoms

Lupus Causes

Lupus Treatment

Lupus Remedies

Lupus Prevention

Lupus Diet

Is Lupus Hereditary?

Lupus Diagnosis

Living with Lupus

Lupus FAQ

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