Mitoxantrone is a chemotherapy drug that is sometimes used in MS as a disease modifying drug to reduce the number of relapses a person is experiencing.
Mitoxantrone appears to work by suppressing the body’s immune system for the period of treatment, depleting the number of cells that are attacking the myelin around nerves. This effectively gives the body a chance to ‘restart’ and sort out what has gone wrong with the immune system.
As mitoxantrone suppresses the immune system, the white blood cell count is likely to fall, making the recipient more prone to infections.
In this study, German researchers from the University of Würzburg looked at the records of 677 people with MS who had been treated with mitoxantrone in their department over 13 years and asked whether these people were more likely than the general population to develop cancers.
Their data showed that the risk of any cancer was only mildly increased, however, the risk of leukaemia and colorectal carcinoma was higher in people who received mitoxantrone than the general population.
Authors suggest that lower gastrointestinal examinations, such as colonoscopy, should be included in assessments for people with MS who receive mitoxantrone. Mitoxantrone, however, may still be used for for rapidly progressive MS, especially in countries where other treatment options are not available.
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