Frequency of specific cancer types in dermatomyositis and polymyositis: a population-based study

Lancet. 2001 Jan 13;357(9250):96-100. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(00)03540-6.


Background: Dermatomyositis and polymyositis are associated with cancer, but previous nationwide studies have not had sufficient cases to test the association between myositis and specific cancer types. Our aim was to investigate the risk of specific cancer types in individuals with dermatomyositis and polymyositis.

Methods: We did a pooled analysis of published national data from Sweden, Denmark, and Finland. All patients with dermatomyositis and polymyositis (> or =15 years old) were identified by discharge diagnosis from the Swedish National Board of Health (1964-83), Danish Hospital Discharge Registry (1977-89), and Finnish National Board of Health (1969-85). Personal details were matched to national cancer registries, to identify all cases of cancer up to 1987 in Sweden, 1995 in Denmark, and 1997 in Finland, and to national death registries for the same periods. We calculated standardised incidence ratios (SIR) for individual cancer sites for dermatomyositis and polymyositis separately, using national cancer rates by country, sex, age, and date.

Findings: We identified 618 cases of dermatomyositis, of whom 198 had cancer. 115 of the 198 developed cancer after diagnosis of dermatomyositis. This disease was strongly associated with malignant disease (SIR 3.0, 95% CI 2.5-3.6), particularly ovarian (10.5, 6.1-18.1), lung (5.9, 3.7-9.2), pancreatic (3.8, 1.6-9.0), stomach (3.5, 1.7-7.3), and colorectal (2.5, 1.4-4.4) cancers, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (3.6, 1.2-11.1). 137 of the 914 cases of polymyositis had cancer, which developed after diagnosis of polymyositis in 95. Polymyositis was associated with a raised risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (3.7, 1.7-8.2), and lung (2.8, 1.8-4.4) and bladder cancers (2.4, 1.3-4.7). In both dermatomyositis and polymyositis, risk of malignant disease was highest at time of myositis diagnosis.

Interpretation: Our results provide evidence that dermatomyositis is strongly associated with a wide range of cancers. The overall risk of malignant disease is also modestly increased among patients with polymyositis, with an excess for some cancers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Dermatomyositis / complications*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Polymyositis / complications*
  • Risk Factors