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Julie  Stachowiak, Ph.D.

Interferons for MS Do NOT Cause Cancer

By May 3, 2011

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Many of us with a chronic illness such as multiple sclerosis (MS) end up on medications for many, many years. Some of the MS medications have known associations with big diseases, such as progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy [PML] for Tysabri and leukemia or cardiac damage with Novantrone.

However, for those of us hanging out on the CRAB (Copaxone, Rebif, Avonex, Betaseron) drugs year after year, occasionally one might wonder if perhaps there is some sort of long-term undesirable side effect or association that no one knows about yet.

Well, there is good news for those people on interferons (Rebif, Avonex and Betaseron). A European study examined data from a pooled global database on people using Rebif and found that use of this medication did NOT increase risk of cancer.

As a matter of fact, people who were on Rebif had lower rates of cancer (4.o cases per 1000 patient years) than people on placebos (6.4 cases per 1000 patient years), although this difference was not statistically significant. (What does this mean? Read Q. What Does it Mean When a Research Result is "Statistically Significant"?)

While I wouldn't necessarily switch to an interferon to lower my risk of cancer, I think it's refreshing to be able to bring good news about some of the medications that many of us depend on.

May 4, 2011 at 1:55 pm
(1) Karin G says:

I was happy to read that the CRAB injections do not cause cancer, but regretfully the article did not address other problems. I was on Avonex for over 2 1/2 years with hardly any side effects until last October when I was diagnosed with Hepatitis. So far I have been unable to find out how many patients have come down with liver problems and talking to Biogen was useless, I guess they are afraid of law suits. We all know and have been informed of complications caused by most medications, so I cannot understand that more detailed information is not made available. Anyway, now I am on Copaxone and have to deal with the daily injection.

August 17, 2011 at 10:51 am
(2) tricia says:

You might not want to take Copaxone either. There has a been a study that linked this drug to breast cancer. The best thing to do is control the disease with a natural raw foods, supplements (i.e B12, B-Complex), yoga etc. That’s what I do and it works. I feel great!

September 13, 2011 at 6:40 pm
(3) Melissa says:

Do you have the information to back your claim up Tricia?
If you google the ingredients in Copaxone, you’ll see that all it contains is, 4 amino acids that many take in form of a supplement, sold in their health food stores. Plus Mannitol a sugar alcohol, with many benefits of its own.

Glatiramer acetate aka Copaxone consists of synthetic polypeptides that are made up of four naturally occurring amino acids: L- glutamic acid, L-alanine, L-tyrosine and L-lysine.

May 4, 2011 at 3:20 pm
(4) taylor says:

I’ve been taking rebif since Feb 2006 amd it seems to be controlling my MS fairly well. Has anyone heard anything about rebif causing changes in kidney functions? My creatine levels have been steadily increasing over this same period of time.

May 4, 2011 at 7:53 pm
(5) Connie Nichols says:

Well, at least they have not been connected to PML, but it is foolish to categorically state that they do not cause cancer.

They are heavy duty toxic substances. They harm the body in ways that we have no idea of yet. They don’t do liver function test on users because it is harmless.

I venture to say that considering all the really horrid side effects from the CRABs, that people should not be quite so cavalier about agreeing to inject themselves with toxic substances that MIGHT be 30% effective, but might be ineffective.

March 5, 2012 at 8:30 am
(6) L says:

I had a family member with MS on Rebif for at least 12 years. The drug definitely helped slow her symptoms, but she developed cancer of the bladder, ureter, and right kidney and after successful removal of those organs, her doctors recommended she discontinue using Rebif. Granted, her life expectany situation (3-5 years) changed after the cancer, making any benefits of Rebif kinda obsolete.

September 8, 2012 at 2:38 pm
(7) sandy says:

I don’t know. My best friend was on Copaxone for 1 year and suddenly she had cancer everywhere. When they diagnosed MS, she was cancer free. They buried her today and I am so sad.

I work in the pharmaceutical industry so I’m not slamming COPAXONE. But there is so much nobody knows.

We need cures to both MS and cancer and I’m not sure the dollars donated are going to that.

October 24, 2012 at 12:07 am
(8) Stacy says:

I was diagnosed with MS in 2000, started taking Avonex but continued to get worse, within a year i was in a wheelchair and told i wouldn’t walk again. Doctor switched me to Copaxone and within 2yrs was out of the chair PRAISE GOD!! 5yrs on Copaxone and suddenly taken off when it was discovered that i had lymphoma. MS doctor said there was a small chance of it to begin with. Have gone 5yrs without any MS meds and now being checked for advancement of lymphoma being cancerous. I am thinking there is a connection but how do i prove it??

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