The immune system destroys nerve cells in Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare neurologic condition. Symptoms usually begin with tingling and weakness in the feet and legs, then move to the upper body and arms, leading to paralysis.
Despite the fact that it can be life-threatening, most people recover with only minor issues. Guillain-Barré syndrome has no recognized cause, however, it can occur as a result of gastrointestinal or respiratory illnesses.
“While a majority of Guillain-Barré syndrome cases develop after an infection, there are still many cases that do not,” says study author Lotte Sahin Levison.
According to a new study published today in the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, people with certain cancers may be at a higher risk of developing new-onset Guillain-Barré syndrome.
People with lymphomas and blood malignancies, as well as those with lung, prostate, or breast cancers, were found to have a higher risk. The research does not establish that cancer is the cause of Guillain-Barré syndrome. It just demonstrates a link.
“Previous studies have suggested there may be a link between cancer and Guillain-Barré syndrome, but just how often people develop Guillain-Barré after a cancer diagnosis has not been well-studied. Our research looked at the population of nearly six million people in Denmark and found that people diagnosed with cancer may have a higher risk of developing Guillain-Barré,” the author adds.
Researchers examined Danish national registers for the study. They discovered 2,414 patients with Guillain-Barré syndrome over the course of 30 years. The researchers also identified ten people without the disease who were matched for age and sex at the time of Guillain-Barré diagnosis, totaling around 24,000 people who did not have the disease.
The researchers next looked for patients in the study who had recently been diagnosed with cancer. This was defined as a cancer diagnosis within six months of a Guillain-Barré diagnosis or within two months of a Guillain-Barré diagnosis. Recent cancer diagnoses were determined for individuals with Guillain-Barré syndrome and for individuals matched to them who do not have the disease.
A recent cancer diagnosis was found in 49 persons with Guillain-Barré syndrome, or 2%. 138 participants, or 0.6 percent, of those who did not have Guillain-Barré had just been diagnosed with cancer.
Researchers discovered that persons who had recently been diagnosed with cancer had a three-and-a-half times higher risk of acquiring Guillain-Barré syndrome than people who had never been diagnosed with cancer. Even after accounting for surgery, infections, and other health issues in a sample of patients, the researchers discovered a roughly three-fold increased risk.
People with diseases like lymphomas had a seven-fold increased risk, those with lung or prostate cancer had a five-and-a-half-fold increased risk, and those with breast cancer had a five-fold increased risk.
“While our study suggests that people with cancer have a greater risk of developing Guillain-Barré syndrome, it is important that people with cancer know the overall risk of developing Guillain-Barré is still very small,” adds Levison. “More research is now needed. Our results suggest that yet unidentified factors present in several types of cancer may contribute to this increased risk.”
One study limitation was that those with Guillain-Barré may have been more closely checked for cancer than people without Guillain-Barré, therefore some cancer cases in the second group may have gone unnoticed.
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