Johns Hopkins logoPreviously we had reported an investigation indicating the cause of scleroderma. According to experts from the Johns Hopkins, patients suffering a certain type of scleroderma may get cancer and scleroderma simultaneously. The study apparently highlights the association between some autoimmune diseases and cancer.

The authors define scleroderma as an incurable autoimmune disease causing scar tissue to develop in the skin and in major organ systems. Claimed to accurately determine the cause of this disease, the investigators are probably able to evaluate the reason why some patients with scleroderma may face an elevated risk for cancer. The study findings seem to clarify the link between some autoimmune disorders and cancer.

The study included 23 patients with both scleroderma and cancer being treated at the Johns Hopkins Scleroderma Center. The authors examined the blood and tumor samples of these patients. It then appeared that ten percent of these patients treated have both cancer and the autoimmune disease.

Ami A. Shah, M.D., M.H.S., an assistant professor of medicine in the division of rheumatology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the study’s lead author commented, “Our research adds more to the discussion about whether cancer and autoimmune diseases are related and whether cancer may be a trigger for scleroderma.”

While conducting the study, the experts analyzed the specific immune markers in each patient and ascertained the type of antibodies the patients made. The outcome was that patients revealing the anti-RNA polymerase I/III antibodies faced the most closely related onset of cancer and scleroderma. Within two years of one another, those patients were reported to suffer from both the diseases.

Another subset of patients who claimed to be tested positive for none of the known autoimmune antibodies also revealed similar results. The authors assume that certain immune markers in the patients’ blood have yet to be identified. Even though the scientists were able to ascertain the association between scleroderma and cancer, the reason behind this still continues to remain a mystery. Whether cancer causes scleroderma or scleroderma causes cancer is probably not understood till date. The lead author mentioned that most patients appear to first develop cancer followed by scleroderma.

Livia Casciola-Rosen, Ph.D., an associate professor of medicine in the division of rheumatology at Johns Hopkins’ medical school and one of the study’s principal investigators remarked, “Many questions remain and more research is needed. Are particular antibodies in scleroderma associated with increased risk of cancer? Maybe we need to look. And if you develop both at the same time, does treatment of one affect the outcome of the other? This research is really just the beginning.”

An unproven theory apparently suggests that as the body generates an immune response to fight a tumor, it may lead to the development of scleroderma. There is also a possibility that even though the immune response successfully defeats a developing tumor it still results in scleroderma. Also organ damage from scleroderma or the employment of immune-suppressing drugs treating scleroderma may lead to cancer.

It has been explained that medical reports of patients suffering both cancer and scleroderma simultaneously detect cancer treatment to restrict the progression of the autoimmune disorder. Shah claimed that since many other autoimmune disorders also appear to have potential links to cancer, the findings may be applicable for those diseases as well.

The small study is published online in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatis.