1. Health
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

Adrienne Dellwo

Cancer Risk Linked to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

By June 8, 2012

Follow me on:

A study published in the journal Cancer shows a link between chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) in elderly people and a type of cancer. Researchers also suggest a possible explanation for the link.

Through use of medical records and Medicare claims, researchers discovered the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), late in life, was 29 times greater in those with ME/CFS. The risk of other forms of cancer did not appear to be elevated.

Researchers hypothesize that chronic immune activation or an infection may be responsible for the link, as these are things that are known to contribute to cancer's development. Chronic immune activation is an established component of ME/CFS, but the medical community is split on whether infections are involved and what role they play in the illness.

This study looked only at people between the ages of 66 and 99. The positive link may lead to further investigation.


June 8, 2012 at 6:49 am
(1) Brett says:

I got Hodgkins lymphoma 5 years after my fatigue began (the cancer began at 27 years of age), and the fatigue was indeed preceded by a persistent infection.

June 8, 2012 at 10:18 am
(2) Rachael says:

Jennie Sophia (Occupy CFS) who served on the Board of Directors of The CFIDS Association of America from 2006 to 2011, and served as Chairman in 2008 and 2009 expressed concerns about two aspects of the study: whether the subjects actually had CFS and whether the odds ratio represented a significant risk of cancer.

From her article:

Abstract vs Paper

The hype in the CFS community when this study was released can be summarized as “Ack! People with CFS have a higher risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma!” Here is yet another illustration of the absolute peril of relying upon paper abstracts and media spin. The paper explicitly refuses to make such a claim:

“We would also caution further against any direct interpretation or application of our results in a clinical setting. We could not estimate the absolute risk of NHL associated with CFS, but the risk is likely too small to affect the clinical management of patients with CFS.”

Everyone got that? This paper does not say that people with CFS have a higher absolute risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This paper did find some interesting statistical associations that should be investigated further, especially given the role of immune activation in CFS. But that’s all the paper found.

Read more: http://www.occupycfs.com/

June 8, 2012 at 11:24 am
(3) Rachael says:

- correction to my comment above Jennie Spotila, not Jennie Sophia served on the Board of Directors of The CFIDS Association of America from 2006 to 2011, and served as Chairman in 2008 and 2009.

June 8, 2012 at 12:11 pm
(4) Ed says:

With regard to the blog quote in Rachael’s comment, “Everyone got that? This paper does not say that people with CFS have a higher absolute risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.”, that statement is incorrect. Their findings do indicate an increased overall risk of NHL, but as the paper states, “We could not estimate the absolute risk of NHL associated with CFS”. I.e. there is an increased risk, but they cannot say at this point what the actual overall risk is, as it will require further study.

This finding is fascinating, particularly as the association is with b-cell lymphomas, because of the finding in Norway last year that b-cell depletion with the monoclonal antibody, Rituximab, led to significant improvement in over 60% of ME/CFS patients. This further supports the view that a large subset of ME/CFS patients maybe suffering from an autoimmune disease. I’m sure it will further attract autoimmune researchers into the field. The UK charity Invest In ME has already got and autoimmune working group up and running.


June 8, 2012 at 1:52 pm
(5) Rachael says:

Ed: If this study encourages more research into studying ME/CFS as an autoimmune illness caused by chronic immune activation (up-regulation of the immune system), then this discovery is indeed most welcome. Autoimmune diseases do not have one specific cause; rather, there seems to be a combination of factors involved (family history, gender or hormonal status, bacterial and viral infections, toxic metal exposure, toxic chemical exposure, vaccinations/immunizations, stress and trauma); anything that causes the immune system to cross-over into permanent overdrive.

I too was very interested in the study out of Norway last year, that showed b-cell depletion with Rituximab led to a significant improvement in many ME/CFS patients. I’ve been saying for a very long time now that ME/CFS is an autoimmune illness; in fact, calming the immune system’s response is the only way I have personally obtained any relief from the terrible illness.

June 8, 2012 at 2:38 pm
(6) Ed says:

Rachael, can I ask what immune modulating treatment helped you? Thanks.

June 8, 2012 at 2:54 pm
(7) John says:

I find this release from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to be a step in the right direction for CFS patients that have elevated B cell populations that are causing long-term fatigue and inflammation (such as the Norway study group). While CFS is currently used as an umbrella term for various subsets of patients, those who have a persistent elevated B cell population are indeed at a greater risk of lymphoma. I say this as an eight year CFS patient (with B cell problems). I am being seen by a hematologist/oncologist at an NCI center in Florida who has started some treatment in hopes of helping my symptoms and preventing NHL. Recent tests have shown some signs that I may have already crossed over, but as of now I have not been diagnosed with NHL. My own personal feeling is that while no one “wants” cancer, if such a diagnosis comes early on and allows treatment that is unavailable to CFS patients, then I would rather be aware and have treatment underway.

June 8, 2012 at 4:13 pm
(8) Rachael says:

Hi Ed; I have believed for a very long time that dopamine depletion/ dysregulation plays a huge role in my own “personal case” of ME/CFS, which I believe is an autoimmune illness. If you are lacking in dopamine and your body has lost the ability to restore dopamine levels in the brain exercise, stress, alcohol etc., anything that eats up your small reserve will cause more fatigue, “flu-like-symptoms”, pain etc Dopamine can act like a brake; without dopamine the immune system becomes hyper-responsive causing prolactin levels to rise, which in turn causes the immune system to become hyper-reactive.. So, the first thing I do is I try to restore dopamine levels in my brain by taking tyrosine (amino acid precursor to dopamine). I can personally only take a small amount at a time,.

I posted on Adrienne’s site (see the link below), what i take to calm my hyper-immune response. It’s my own concoction (trial and error) and I don’t know if it would be beneficial to anyone other than myself. For me it has taken me from completely bed-ridden to quite high-functioning, but I cannot say for sure if it would, or would not benefit others.


June 8, 2012 at 5:29 pm
(9) bah125 says:

Are you sure the article implied risk was 29 times greater? I thought it was 29% greater. Just asking.

June 8, 2012 at 6:15 pm
(10) Bernadette says:

Hi,In the last 8 weeks I have been diagnoised with CFS/Fibromyalgia/COPD and lastly Breast Cancer.Could the cancer be linked?How do you live with all this,it feels as if my life has come to an end?I have ask for a DNR should things go wrong during my OP,due to my COPD [lung function].I feel it would be a blessing.

June 9, 2012 at 7:19 am
(11) Ed says:

Thanks Rachael. Have you ever tried Amantadine to increase your dopamine levels? It is often used to treat fatigue in MS and Parkinson’s. My doc tried me on it, but it didn’t help. Also made me feel pretty spaced out. Glad to hear you’ve improved so much.

@Adrienne, bah125 is right, the increased risk calculated in this study is not 29 times greater, it is 1.29 or 29%. I think you should correct this, so as not to worry people too much.

June 9, 2012 at 10:04 am
(12) Rachael says:

Hi Ed: No I have not tried Amantadine to increase dopamine levels. Out of sheer exasperation I gave up on going to doctors many years ago and tried to find my own solutions. I think the big break-through for me was actually increasing my dopamine levels with tyrosine, which I believe I was deeply lacking in (my own personal neurotransmitter replacement therapy). After that, everything else I take just seemed to compliment each other and I no longer felt like I was ‘running on empty’. It’s not just one thing that makes me feel better; for me it’s the whole assorted package of supplements and over-the-counter medications that enables me to have some sort of a normal life.

All the best

July 27, 2012 at 6:41 am
(13) aolmmnbjytgbz says:

All women with some of the unvarying chat chengdu massage to accomplish a variety of purposes, nearly to this toxic throw vocal

January 30, 2014 at 1:20 pm
(14) angela says:

Just reading through the comments. I hope Bernadette is still with us and has made a good recovery.

Leave a Comment

Line and paragraph breaks are automatic. Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title="">, <b>, <i>, <strike>
  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.