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Autoimmune Disease and Mesothelioma: Will it Impact Survival?

autoimmune diseaseA new lung cancer study suggests that having an autoimmune disease will not necessarily lead to shorter cancer survival.

This could be good news for pleural mesothelioma patients suffering from autoimmune disorders. Pleural mesothelioma is a lung-related disease that has many characteristics in common with lung cancer. 

The new study comes from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. It included 177 lung cancer patients who also had immune diseases. Doctors compared their survival with a control group of lung cancer patients.  

They determined that having an autoimmune disease did not negatively impact lung cancer survival. In fact, some of those patients lived longer than those with healthy immune systems. 

What is an Autoimmune Disease?

An autoimmune disease is any disorder that causes the immune system to turn on the body. In people with autoimmune disorders, the immune system attacks healthy cells. Over time, these attacks make patients sick. 

Examples of autoimmune diseases include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis 
  • Lupus 
  • Multiple sclerosis, 
  • Connective tissue disease 
  • Myositis
  • Sjögren syndrome
  • Hashimoto’s disease
  • Psoriasis
  • Vitiligo

Many Americans have an autoimmune disease. This includes people with malignant mesothelioma. The NIH says about 23.5 million Amercians suffer from autoimmune disorders. That is more than seven percent of the population. These diseases are on the rise.

There is no evidence that mesothelioma patients are more likely than others to have an autoimmune disease. But they are not less likely, either. Fortunately, it may not impact their survival either way.

Comparing Survival Among Cancer Patients

The new study was a retrospective study. That means that researchers looked through past records to find answers. The study included lung cancer patients treated at Northwestern University Medical Center between 2003 and 2019. 

Autoimmune disease was present in 349 patients. The researchers narrowed down the list to 177 patients with a mean age of 67. (Older patients tend to have more serious health problems that could skew the results.)

More than half of the patients had non-small cell lung cancer. About 16 percent had squamous cell carcinoma and about 10 percent had small cell lung cancer. There were no cases of mesothelioma in the group.

Researchers compared survival of the autoimmune + lung cancer patients to 219 lung cancer patients without one of these conditions.  

“Compared with institutional controls, patients with autoimmune disease experienced no difference in survival despite the fact that fewer patients in this group received standard-of-care treatment,” writes author Saya Jacob, MD. “No individual autoimmune disease was associated with worse prognosis.”

Malignant mesothelioma is a rare cancer with a poor prognosis. Asbestos exposure at work or in the environment is the primary cause.


Jacob, S, et al, “Lung Cancer Survival in Patients With Autoimmune Disease”, December 14, 2020, JAMA Network Open, Online article, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7737093/

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