Contribution of viral infection to risk for cancer in systemic lupus erythematosus and multiple sclerosis

PLoS One. 2021 Jan 22;16(1):e0243150. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0243150. eCollection 2021.


Patients with autoimmune disorders (AD) have altered cancer risks compared to the general population. Systemic lupus erythematosus and multiple sclerosis lead to a heightened risk for hematological malignancies and decreased risk for breast, ovarian, and prostate malignancies. Often patients with autoimmune disease have dysregulated antiviral immune responses, including against oncogenic viruses. To uncover the relationship between viral incidence and cancer risk in the context of autoimmune disease, we extracted electronic health records (EHR) from Vanderbilt University. ICD-9/10 codes and laboratory values were collected for hematological, lung, anal-vaginal, thyroid, hepatobiliary, bladder, prostate, and breast cancers; and viruses including Epstein Barr virus (EBV), Human papilloma virus (HPV), and Hepatitis A/B/C (Hep). Only viral infections that led to a physician visit or laboratory test were entered into the EMR; therefore, only clinically relevant cases were noted and considered positive in this study. The relationship between virus infection and cancer in an SLE cohort (SLE-cases n = 2,313, and SLE-controls n = 5,702) and an MS cohort (MS-case n = 7,277, MS-control n = 7,277) was examined by multilinear logistic regression. Viral infection was strongly associated with increased risk for cancer overall. SLE and MS patients were more susceptible to all viral infections. MS patients trended toward increased risk for cancers overall, while decreased risk for hormone-based cancers in SLE patients non-significantly reduced their risk for overall cancer. Both SLE and MS patients had increased clinically relevant EBV infection, which was associated with risk for hematological cancers. Preventing viral infections by vaccination may be especially helpful in controlling risk for cancer in SLE and MS patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Cohort Studies
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Logistic Models
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / epidemiology*
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / virology*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / epidemiology*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / virology*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Risk Factors
  • Virus Diseases / complications*