Selena Gomez has been transparent about her battle with lupus ever since getting her diagnosis in 2014. The 29-year-old singer and actress have disclosed that, in addition to a kidney transplant in 2017, she has undergone chemotherapy to address her autoimmune condition, and that the procedure has had a negative impact on her career and mental health.
In an interview with Elle magazine, Golez said, “My lupus, my kidney transplant, chemotherapy, having a mental illness, going through very public heartbreaks—these were all things that honestly should have taken me down.”
Gomez previously admitted to Billboard in 2015 that her therapies took her out of the public eye and even gave rise to addiction allegations. My sabbatical was mainly about going through chemotherapy after being diagnosed with lupus, Gomez told the magazine.
According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), often known as lupus, is a chronic autoimmune disease that happens when the immune system assaults its own tissues and organs (NIAMS).
Lupus is a systemic disease that can affect the skin, joints, heart and lungs, kidneys, and brain, among other bodily components. Treatment for lupus ultimately relies on a patient’s symptoms and how severe they are, although in some situations—like Gomez’s—medical professionals utilize chemotherapeutic medications to stifle the immunological reaction that causes the condition.
What you should know about additional lupus treatment choices as well as how chemotherapy for the disease functions is provided below.
How and Why Is Chemotherapy Used To Treat Lupus?
According to the National Cancer Institute, chemotherapy is a form of medication that kills the body’s cells and is most frequently used to treat cancer (NCI). Chemotherapy is also used by medical professionals to treat autoimmune diseases including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis as well as blood problems.
Although doctors may prescribe the same medications to treat lupus and cancer, the two illnesses are unrelated and different.
According to Andrew Wang, MD, Ph.D., a rheumatologist at Yale Medicine and an assistant professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine, cancer develops when cells divide and proliferate uncontrollably, causing harm to surrounding tissues and other cells.
On the other hand, autoimmune illnesses occur when the body’s cells attack its own tissues and organs.
According to Dr. Wang, because autoimmunity involves a similar process, chemotherapy medications used to treat cancer can also treat lupus. Cells divide before they can harm the body. According to Dr. Wang, “the idea is that you can eliminate the autoimmunity if you can stop the rapidly dividing phase.”
Healthcare professionals employ chemotherapy medications differently for people with autoimmune disorders because the two diseases function so differently from one another.
Amr Sawalha, MD, head of the Comprehensive Lupus Center of Excellence and chief of the division of pediatric rheumatology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, claims that chemotherapy for lupus is often administered at a considerably lower dose than for cancer.
According to Dr. Sawalha, we reduce immune cells to the point where they quit attacking body organs and tissues rather than killing them. Dr. Sawalha explained that this is the reason why lupus-specific chemotherapy is frequently referred to as “immunotherapy treatment” rather than simply “chemotherapy.”
There are various chemotherapy medications. The one a doctor recommends is contingent upon the particular symptoms a lupus patient is exhibiting (and how severe they are). Some chemotherapy medications can be taken orally, while others are administered intravenously.
According to Dr. Sawalha, the side effects are almost often much less severe than those associated with cancer treatment. For instance, immunosuppressants can induce milder hair thinning than chemotherapy.
Dr. Wang added that while some lupus sufferers encounter gastrointestinal disorders including vomiting or diarrhea, these symptoms are generally not as severe in most lupus patients.
According to Dr. Sawalha, chemotherapy medications can have risks, despite the fact that their side effects are typically milder. For this reason, it’s crucial that doctors thoroughly monitor patients during the process. Dr. Sawalha explained, “For instance, we want to make sure we don’t suppress the immune system too much and lower the patient’s white blood cell level.
What Other Lupus Treatments Are Available?
Lupus patients have a variety of treatment options, including chemotherapy. Only a small number of medications are used to treat both cancer and lupus, according to Dr. Wang. “Most of the medications lupus patients would take are not used to treat cancer.”
Steroids are one such alternative, which functions to stop autoimmune disease by weakening the entire immune system.
Steroids help to avoid injury to your body’s tissues by lowering immune reaction and inflammation, according to the Johns Hopkins Lupus Center. Healthcare professionals nevertheless employ steroids with caution due to their negative side effects, which include weakened immune responses and increased susceptibility to infection.
The goal, according to Dr. Sawalha, is to utilize steroids for the shortest time possible and at the lowest dose possible in order to reduce their long-term negative effects. He continues that steroids are particularly useful for acute flare-ups because they act more quickly than other medications and that doctors frequently combine them with other treatments that take longer to take effect.
According to the US Food and Drug Administration, biologics, another lupus treatment option, function by specifically targeting immune cells involved in producing autoimmune antibodies rather than the entire immune system (FDA).
Currently, according to Dr. Sawalha, there are only two FDA-approved biologic medications for the treatment of lupus: Saphnelo (anifrolumab-fnia) and Benlysta (benlimumab), which will both be available in August 2021. Benlysta was initially approved to treat SLE in 2011 and then active lupus nephritis (a kidney disease brought on by lupus) in December 2020.
Dr. Sawalha may administer hydroxychloroquine, an immunomodulator, coupled with steroids when a flare-up occurs for patients with less severe symptoms. For those who develop more severe lupus symptoms, such as kidney failure, as Gomez did, Dr. Sawalha might think about using immunosuppressants. Dr. Sawalha stated, “We might ramp up if a patient’s illness isn’t controlled with other meds.
Despite the fact that all of these medications can benefit lupus sufferers, each patient is different, according to Dr. Sawalha. Additionally, the appropriate course of treatment will be determined by the unique circumstances of each patient and will be decided by their complete medical team.