Cancer Diagnosis Increases Risk of Guillain-Barré Syndrome: Study

Patients with lymphomas, prostate, lung or breast cancer diagnoses had an even higher risk of Guillain-Barré Syndrome than other cancer patients.

New research indicates that patients with certain types of cancer may face an increased risk of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that can lead to paralysis.

In findings published this month in the medical journal Neurology, Danish researchers conducted a population study of more than 6 million people and found that those who received a recent cancer diagnosis were more than three times as likely to be diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Researchers reviewed Danish national registries over a 30-year period from 1987 and 2016, for the country of nearly 6 million people. They found 2,414 cases of people diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome. Each person was matched for age and sex at the time of diagnosis with 24,000 people who did not have the condition.

Patients who were diagnosed with cancer, including lymphomas and blood cancers, lung, prostate or breast cancers, had an increased risk of having new onset Guillain-Barré syndrome after the cancer diagnosis

Of all individuals identified with Guillain-Barré syndrome, 2% had a recent cancer diagnosis. Among those without a recent cancer diagnosis about 0.6% of people had Guillain-Barré syndrome. Those diagnosed with cancer had a 3.5 greater risk of developing the condition compared to those without cancer, even after adjusting for other factors.

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Certain types of cancer appeared to carry a higher Guillain-Barré syndrome risk than others. Those with lymphomas had a seven times higher risk, while having lung or prostate cancer increased the risk by 5.5 times, and breast cancer patients 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,” Study author Dr. Lotte Sahin Levison, of Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, said in a press release. “More research is now needed. Our results suggest that yet unidentified factors present in several types of cancer may contribute to this increased risk.”

Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare neurologic disorder which causes the immune system to attack nerve cells. Symptoms often begin with weakness and tingling in the feet and legs, which can spread to the upper body and arms and can lead to paralysis. While most patients recover fully with few problems, the condition can be life-threatening.

The exact cause of Guillain-Barré syndrome is not known, but it can occur after a person has had a gastrointestinal or respiratory infection.

The findings of the new study do not prove that cancer causes Guillain-Barré syndrome, but highlights a link between the two and an increased risk among cancer patients. Further research is needed to determine if the cancers actually cause Guillain-Barré syndrome, or if there are other factors at play, such as potentially side effects of certain cancer treatments.

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