Multiple sclerosis (MS) is thought to be a chronic autoimmune disease of the central nervous system, which attacks myelin, a protective material that insulates nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. Over time, MS can cause loss of balance, impaired speech, extreme fatigue and problems with vision. Currently there is no cure, but treatment with beta-interferons (IFNBs) is available to reduce the frequency of MS attacks. Recent research suggests that the use of IFNBs may increase the risk of cancer. Given the estimated 75,000 Canadians with MS and the increasing popularity of the MS drugs, even a moderate increase in cancer risk could translate into a substantial number of new cancer cases.
Dr. Helen Tremlett is conducting the first study in North America to investigate the effect of IFNB on cancer risk in an MS population. Dr. Tremlett will examine more than two decades of BC data created by linking the BC Multiple Sclerosis Research Groups’ database with the BC Cancer Agency's Registry to determine the overall risk of cancer in the MS population, and the risk among MS patients treated with beta-interferon compared to the general population. Dr. Tremlett’s research will help to determine the background risk of cancer among MS patients, whether widely used treatments are associated with increased risk of cancer, and will also facilitate researchers in evaluating future drugs licensed for MS.