Autoantibodies May Explain Link Between Cancer and Scleroderma Onset

Patrícia Silva, PhD avatar

by Patrícia Silva, PhD |

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Johns HopkinsResearchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore investigated the association between autoantibodies, the risk of developing cancer and the possible link between cancer and scleroderma. The study is entitled “Examination of autoantibody status and clinical features that associate with cancer risk and cancer-associated scleroderma,” and is published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatology.

Patients with scleroderma are thought to have an increased risk of malignancy in comparison with the general population. In fact, a wide range of cancers have been detected in patients at a similar time as scleroderma onset, with lung and breast cancer being the most common. While a higher cancer risk in scleroderma patients is still a controversial idea, reports have suggested the possibility that malignancy triggers an autoimmune disease process in a specific subset of individuals that leads to scleroderma.

The authors of the study previously discovered a tight temporal relationship between the onset of cancer and scleroderma in patients with antibodies against RNA polymerase III, suggesting a biological association between scleroderma and cancer. At the time, researchers suggested that RNA pol III autoantibodies could be a marker of malignancy in newly diagnosed scleroderma patients. Now the team’s goal is to further assess the relationship between RNA pol III autoantibodies, cancer features and the cancer-scleroderma onset.

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The team conducted a study comprising 1,044 scleroderma patients, from which 168 (16.1%) were diagnosed with cancer. Two outcomes were tested: cancer and a close cancer-scleroderma interval, taking into account the autoantibody status of the patient.

Researchers found that caucasian race and older age at scleroderma onset were associated with the risk of developing cancer. Older age at scleroderma onset and also the presence of RNA pol III autoantibodies were on the other hand linked to a close cancer-scleroderma interval.

The team concluded that an older age at the time of scleroderma onset is strongly correlated with cancer risk, and that the status of RNA pol III autoantibodies is a potential biomarker of concomitant cancer and scleroderma at any age.

Scleroderma, also called systemic sclerosis, corresponds to a group of rare, chronic systemic autoimmune diseases in which the body’s own immune system attacks healthy tissues. The disease is characterized by the hardening and tightening of the skin and connective tissues. Scleroderma usually affects the skin, but it can also affect internal organs, blood vessels and the digestive tract. This disorder is more common among women than men.