Press release 26/24 - 12.03.2024

Is there a link between rheumatism and cancer?

New Study sheds light on the link between autoimmune diseases and female-specific cancers

Studies have long suggested a link between autoimmune diseases and cancer. Researchers at the Chair of Epidemiology at the University of Augsburg conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of the link and determined that patients with rheumatoid arthritis have a slightly lower risk for certain female-specific cancers while patients with psoriasis have a slightly higher risk. The study has been published in the “Journal of Autoimmunity.”

Between five and eight percent of people worldwide have an autoimmune disease. At least 80 are known to date. Autoimmune diseases can severely affect the quality of life of those affected and are often accompanied by other diseases. A focus of research at the Chair of Epidemiology at the Faculty of Medicine is the link between autoimmune diseases and other diseases. “Generally, women are more frequently affected by autoimmune diseases, which is why we wanted to investigate if there are any links with female-specific types of cancers,” explains Dr Dennis Freuer, a statistician and third author of the study. Dr Simone Fischer, Prof. Dr med. Christine Meisinger, and Freuer have also investigated, among other things, to what extent two very common autoimmune diseases – rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis – are associated with breast and uterine cancer.

That autoimmune diseases can be correlated with cancer is suggested by several studies. Fischer, Meisinger, and Freuer have now conducted a meta-analysis. They initially examined around 10,000 articles in a systematic review and then summarised and evaluated data from a total of 45 studies. Their analysis included data from over one million patients with one of the two autoimmune diseases.

Further research needed

The researchers have arrived at some interesting results: Patients with rheumatoid arthritis show a lower risk for breast and uterine cancer, while patients with psoriasis have a slightly increased risk of breast cancer. However, Freuer emphasises the geographical differences in relation to cancer risk, in particular with patients with rheumatoid arthritis. In contrast to Europeans and North Americans, no reduced risk in connection with breast or uterine cancer could be determined for patients from Asia.

“Our study provides important results about cancer risk with respect to women with autoimmune diseases. However, further targeted studies are needed that take a closer look at whether it is the autoimmune diseases themselves or possibly the medications used to treat them that have a positive or negative affect on cancer risk,” explains Dr Simone Fischer, the first author of the study.

About the study

Simone Fischer, Christa Meisinger, Dennis Freuer: Autoimmune diseases and female-specific cancer risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis, Journal of Autoimmunity (2024).

Scientific contact

Prof. Dr. med. Christine Meisinger
Deputy head of chair
Dr. rer. biol. hum. Dennis Freuer M.Sc.
Research Associate

Media contact

Corina Härning
Deputy Media Officer
Communications and Media Relations