New genetic links between the immune system and classical Hodgkin lymphoma have been identified for the first time in a major UK study.
The meta-analysis of genome-wide association study data revealed six new risk loci that suggest there may be an autoimmune connection to the disease.
Scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), found that many of the identified single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) are related to the function of the immune system, and three had previously been associated with autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.
The study, which is published in the latest edition of Nature Communications, found that one of the polymorphisms increases the risk of Hodgkin lymphoma by more than one third, while the others each increased the risk by about 15%.
However, the researchers say that the link does not mean that people with autoimmune diseases have an increased risk of lymphoma - but instead it provides genetic clues for better understanding both lymphoma and autoimmune diseases.
In what is the largest study of its kind into Hodgkin lymphoma, ICR scientists analysed four different European studies, examining genetic data from 5,314 cases of Hodgkin lymphoma and 16,749 controls.
Although many people with Hodgkin lymphoma are treated successfully with first-line therapies, there is a need for new options for those whose first line treatment has failed.
Five of the six new SNPs that were linked to the development of Hodgkin lymphoma affect the way B-cells develop.
The study also identified discrete differences in genetic risk between Hodgkin Lymphoma - nodular sclerosis Hodgkin Lymphoma (NSHL) and mixed cellularity Hodgkin Lymphoma (MCHL).
Professor Richard Houlston, ICR professor of molecular and population genetics, said: "Interestingly, we found that some of the genetic changes we have linked to Hodgkin lymphoma have previously been associated with the risk of autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
"It doesn't mean that if you develop an autoimmune disease you are at increased risk of lymphoma, but it does offer fascinating genetic clues to these diseases. The new information could point towards new ways of diagnosing, treating, or even helping to prevent Hodgkin lymphoma."
Dr Alasdair Rankin, director of research at Bloodwise said: "Because of research, treatments for many people with Hodgkin lymphoma are now good, and around 80% of all people affected survive in the long-term. Although this is good news, treatments can have long-term health effects, such as infertility and secondary cancers, so finding kinder treatments for Hodgkin lymphoma is important. We welcome this study, which sheds new light on how Hodgkin lymphoma develops."
The study was funded by a wide range of organisations, including Bloodwise, Cancer Research UK and the Lymphoma Research Trust.
Source: Genome-wide association study of classical Hodgkin lymphoma identifies key regulators of disease susceptibility. Nature Communications 8, Article number: 1892 (2017) doi:10.1038/s41467-017-00320-1
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