The association between multiple sclerosis (MS) and cancer has long been investigated with conflicting results. Several reports suggest an increased cancer risk among MS patients treated with immunosuppressant (IS) drugs.
We performed a cohort study including MS patients recruited at the Neurological Department of the University of Palermo. Mean follow-up period was ten years for the whole cohort. We calculated cancer incidence among patients treated with IS. Incidence rates were compared in the cohort by calculating the relative risk according to length and dose of exposure to IS. Cancer incidence among MS patients was compared to cancer incidence in the general population of Sicily in similar age groups.
On an overall cohort of 531 MS patients (346 women and 185 men) exposed to IS, we estimated a crude incidence rate for cancer of 2.26% (2.02% in women, 2.7% in men). Cancer risk was higher compared to rates observed among an equal number of patients not exposed to IS, and to the risk in the general population in Sicily at similar age groups (adjusted HR: 11.05; CI 1.67–73.3; p = 0.013).
The present study showed a higher cancer risk in MS patients associated only to previous IS exposure. Studies on long-term outcomes are essential to evaluate the possibility that treatment options that need to be considered for a long time-period may modify risk for life threatening diseases.