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MS/Cancer study seeks participants

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Olivera Nesic-Taylor, PhD, is studying the relationship between multiple sclerosis (MS) and breast cancer. She is affiliated with the Texas Tech Paul Foster School of Medicine in El Paso, Texas. 

Study focus

Dr. Nesic-Taylor’s research focuses on the following questions concerning MS and breast cancer:

  • ·      Does MS decrease or increase the risk for breast cancer?
  • ·      Do the treatments for MS affect the risk or symptoms of breast cancer?
  • ·      Do the treatments for breast cancer affect symptoms of MS?
  • ·      What are the next steps in researching the link between MS and breast cancer? 

Dr. Nesic-Taylor discussed these issues with members of the MS/Cancer Support Group. The self-help support group is sponsored by the National MS Society and the American Cancer Society. 


The incidence of MS in women is two to three times higher than in men, and the incidence of breast cancer is 100 times higher in women. Therefore, the link probably involves sex hormones and/or sex chromosomes. 

Genes associated with MS (17q21.2, 17q22-q24) and breast cancer (17q21.31) are on the same chromosome in close proximity, and may affect each other. The sex hormones estrogens/progesterone and androgens have roles in both MS and breast cancer. 

The average age for breast cancer diagnosis is 61 years old and is most frequently diagnosed between the ages of 55 to 64. 

The average age of a MS diagnosis is 37 years old, and the onset is most often between 30 and 37 years. Consequently, in most cases MS will precede the onset of breast cancer. Therefore, two of the key questions are whether MS (preceding breast cancer) increases or decreases the risk for breast cancer and whether MS treatments affect that risk. 


Dr. Nesic-Taylor explained that there is not enough data to determine if MS increases or decreases the risk for breast cancer. The results from the few studies conducted are not conclusive, and more investigation is required. However, research does show that MS treatments alter the body’s immune response, which is known to have a key role in cancer.

Anti-estrogen drugs are the most often used therapies for the treatment of the more prevalent estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer. Of breast cancers, 70 percent are estrogen dependent. 

Dr. Nesic-Taylor gave insight to the questions: Is estrogen protective or harmful in patients with MS? 

·      Pregnancy, particularly during stages associated with high estrogen levels, offers protection to MS patients and to female test animals with MS.

·      Oral contraceptive use among female MS patients has been shown to decrease the severity of the disease course.

·      Estrogens protect damaged nervous system. 

Based on some studies including studies done in Dr. Nesic-Taylor’s lab, Tamoxifen is beneficial in various neurodegenerative conditions, including MS. Also, Tamoxifen is a preventative breast cancer treatment in that it can prevent the development of breast cancer in MS patients. Therefore, Tamoxifen may be all the more beneficial. While helping people with MS, it may also prevent development of breast cancer. However, that remains to be investigated further. 

Dr. Nesic-Taylor reported that currently no national database exists to collect information about MS. Previously, the biggest national health interview survey was the US census bureau collected data from 1978 and 1997 but no longer does.

Dr. Nesic-Taylor stated what needs to be done:

  • ·      Expand epidemiological studies that investigate the risk for breast cancer in MS patients.
  • ·      Investigate the effect of MS treatments, for example beta interferon, on the risk for breast cancer.
  • ·      Investigate the effect of Tamoxifen and other breast cancer treatments on MS symptoms.

Her current work includes epidemiological study on the risk for breast cancer in MS patients using data collected by the Texas Health Care Information Collection center for Health Statistics, in collaboration with Dr. Zuber Mulla from the Texas Tech Paul Foster School of Medicine. She also wants to assess disability scores in female MS patients who also have breast cancer and have been treated with Tamoxifen or other preventative treatment. She is seeking MS patients who are willing to participate in this study. 

Those interested in participating can contact Dr. Olivera Nesic-Taylor at (915) 215-4357 or email her at


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