Overview of ANA
ANA (Antinuclear Antibodies) is a type of blood test that looks at a person’s levels of antinuclear antibodies, which are proteins produced by your body’s immune system that can negatively affect healthy cells. If ANA is positive, it may indicate an autoimmune disorder such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, or it could be indicative of certain types of cancers, including ovarian and breast cancer.
Let’s take a closer look at how ANA can be used to diagnose certain types of cancer:
Definition of ANA
ANA stands for antinuclear antibody and is a blood test that can help detect autoantibodies indicating autoimmune disorders. ANA testing may be used to identify the presence of antinuclear antibodies that are associated with many different autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, polymyositis/dermatomyositis and other systemic rheumatic disorders. It is also important for diagnosis of certain forms of cancer such as Hodgkin’s lymphoma and teratoma.
The ANA test measures the levels of these autoantibodies in the blood. Generally speaking, a positive result for ANA shows an increased level of antibodies in your system that may indicate an autoimmune disorder or other condition. In some cases, a high “titer” (the level at which antinuclear antibodies can be detected in the blood) indicates a more severe form of the corresponding autoimmune disorder. A negative result may mean that no autoantibodies were present or that a person does not have the condition being tested for—or could even mean something else entirely.
Causes of Positive ANA
Antinuclear antibodies (ANA) are autoantibodies that are produced by an individual’s immune system and target components of their own cells. A positive ANA test generally indicates an autoimmune disorder, although the presence of antinuclear antibodies doesn’t necessarily imply disease or clinical symptoms—it could be a part of a normal autoimmune response.
Cancers can also cause positive ANA tests, as well as other diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. The following cancers can cause a positive ANA:
- Breast cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Thyroid cancer
- Ovarian carcinoma
- Lung carcinoma
- Multiple myeloma
Other causes of positive ANA tests include:
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
- Scleroderma (progressive systemic sclerosis)
- Rheumatoid arthritis – is an autoimmune inflammatory joint disorder which affects 1–2% of the population worldwide. It often leads to pain, swelling and stiffness in joints because the immune system targets joint tissues due to misdirected immune response against harmful antigens.
- Polymyositis/Dermatomyositis (PM/DM) – is another type of inflammatory muscle disorder that affects skeletal muscles, leading to muscle weakness, pain and even tissue damage in extreme cases. It’s caused when undesired lymphocytes attack healthy muscles and tissue directly, initiating a self‐destructive cycle that needs to be treated promptly by administration of immunosuppressive medications or corticosteroids to prevent further damage.
Types of Cancer Linked to Positive ANA
A positive antinuclear antibody (ANA) test can be highly suggestive of an underlying autoimmune disorder and can indicate cancer in some cases. Generally, ANA tests are used to evaluate a variety of connective tissue disorders, but it can also be useful in diagnosing certain types of cancer.
In this article, we’ll be covering the types of cancer that are linked to positive ANA tests:
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic inflammatory disorder caused by an autoimmune reaction, in which the body’s own immune system attacks healthy tissue, producing symptoms that can affect many parts of the body. A positive ANA test result may be an indication that you have SLE–a positive ANA result occurs when your body produces antibodies to substances found in its own cells.
Some of the common signs and symptoms associated with SLE include:
- Joint pain and swelling
- Skin rash
As the disease progresses, it can cause serious complications such as organ damage or failure. Inflammation of various organs is a possible result of untreated SLE. Treatment focuses on managing inflammation with drugs that suppress the immune system such as corticosteroids and antimalarial medications. There is no cure for SLE.
Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that primarily affects the tear and saliva glands, but can also affect other parts of the body. People with this condition usually have very dry eyes and mouth, as well as a positive ANA test result.
Some types of cancer may be associated with Sjogren’s syndrome – non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is one type that can be linked to this disorder. Other forms of cancer, such as thyroid and breast cancer, may also be connected to Sjogren’s disease.
Treatment for Sjogren’s syndrome typically involves medications, such as antimalarials and immunosuppressants, which help manage the symptoms and try to reduce fatigue and joint pain. Additionally, drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated and lubricating eye drops will help relieve dryness in the eyes.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that increases the risk of certain types of cancer. Patients diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis may have an abnormal ANA result, which is a sign of inflammation in the body.
People with rheumatoid arthritis have an increased risk of developing certain types of cancer, including:
- Skin cancers (especially melanoma)
- Lung cancer
- Stomach or bowel cancer
Additionally, any inflammatory or autoimmune condition can increase the risk of developing some forms of blood cancer (leukemia and myeloproliferative neoplasms).
It is important to speak with a healthcare provider if you are experiencing any symptoms related to these forms of cancer or if your ANA results are positive.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a group of autoimmune disorders that cause inflammation in the digestive tract. This inflammation can affect different parts of the body, including the small intestine, large intestine and/or rectum. It’s estimated that up to 1.6 million people in the United States have IBD, with about 30% of those affected having both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis – two common types of IBD.
Interestingly, IBD has been linked to other illnesses, such as certain cancers, principally non-Hodgkin lymphoma and carcinoma of the colon or rectum. While these cancers are not always associated with autoimmune diseases like IBD or positive ANA test results, they are often considered part of a “cluster” of illnesses – meaning they can occur together or be related through shared risk factors. Therefore, when a person is diagnosed with IBD and positive ANA outcomes are also present, cancer screenings should be performed to identify any presence of cancer or any history associated with it.
Celiac disease has been associated with a positive ANA, likely due to the presence of anti-endomysial antibody (EMA). This type of cancer is thought to be autoimmune in nature, which explains why the ANA test result can be positive. Celiac disease is particularly prevalent among individuals of European descent and is much less common among those from African or Asian backgrounds. It affects approximately 1% of people in the United States and is characterized by gut inflammation caused by an immune response to gluten.
In addition to a positive ANA, other symptoms of Celiac Disease include:
- Abdominal pain/bloating
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Anemia (due to poor absorption)
- Fatigue (owing to malabsorption)
- Weight loss due to malnutrition
- Skin rashes
- Joint pain/inflammation
- Depression /anxiety
- Canker sores in the mouth
The diagnosis is typically confirmed through both serological tests and biopsy results. Treatment includes eliminating gluten from the diet throughout life and monitoring for signs of malabsorption with regular blood tests. It is important to note that while a positive ANA could indicate celiac disease, it may also indicate other disorders such as lupus or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Thyroid cancer is one of the types of cancer that can be associated with a positive antinuclear antibody (ANA) test. ANAs are proteins found in blood that react to the body’s own tissues, often as a sign of an autoimmune disorder. A positive ANA test can mean various autoimmune disorders, including those related to cancer.
Thyroid cancer is a type of malignancy that occurs when abnormal cells form in the thyroid gland and begin to grow in an uncontrolled manner. In some cases, it can lead to a positive ANA test if it causes inflammation in the body’s tissues and organs. This type of cancer is more likely to have an effect on young people and women, but anyone can be affected by it.
There are several different types of thyroid cancers, including:
- Papillary and follicular thyroid cancers which tend to grow slowly and respond well to treatment.
- Medullary thyroid cancer which usually grows more quickly.
- Anaplastic or poorly differentiated thyroid cancers which spread rapidly.
- Lymphocytic variant thyroid cancers which do not typically cause symptoms until they have become more advanced.
Treatment for any kind of thyroid cancer depends on how advanced it has become, but may include surgery, radiation therapy or hormone suppression therapy. It is important for anyone experiencing possible symptoms or who has been diagnosed with this type of cancer to consult their healthcare provider for further evaluation and treatment plans if necessary.
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer to be associated with a positive ANA (antinuclear antibody) test result. One study found that among 36 women with breast cancer and a positive antinuclear antibody test, the majority were diagnosed with the disease before the detection of any symptoms.
Although a positive ANA does not guarantee breast cancer, individuals who suspect they may have an autoimmune disorder or related conditions should seek medical attention.
Other types of cancer that are linked to an increased chance for a positive ANA test result include:
- Ovarian and prostate cancers;
- Multiple myeloma;
- Urinary bladder cancers;
- Pancreatic and renal cell carcinomas.
It is important to note that many of these other forms of cancer are much less common than breast cancer.
Ovarian cancer is one of the cancers that are linked to producing positive antinuclear antibodies (ANA). ANA is a type of autoantibody present in the blood. These autoantibodies can usually detect certain diseases such as autoimmune diseases and some cancer types. A positive ANA test result is usually an indicator of certain autoimmune diseases, but it can also indicate that an individual has ovarian cancer.
ANAs are detected through a blood test and they can indicate the presence of antibodies directed against the body’s own tissues, known as autoantibodies. Autoimmune disease causes the body’s immune system to create autoantibodies which attack healthy tissues instead of only foreign substances such as bacteria and viruses. In rare cases, certain cancers are known to cause this reaction in which certain cells within the tumor produce antibodies resembling antigens within normal tissue, thus resulting in a positive ANA test result.
Ovarian Cancer is one type of cancer known to be associated with a positive ANA test result, though it is not common or well-known. Ovarian Cancer occurs when cells in or on the surface of an ovary begin to grow abnormally and uncontrollably. These malignant tumors produce substances such as calcium and testosterone which stimulate production of antigens from other normal cell systems resulting in a positive ANA reading on blood tests due to the miss-identification by immune systems between self (antigen) vs nonself (antinuclear antibody).
It should be noted though, that while ovarian cancer may cause a false-positive ANA reading, it does not mean that all people with elevated ANAs have ovarian cancer – more tests will need to be conducted if this elevated level persists over time before one can be diagnosed with said condition.
Prostate cancer is a type of cancer that affects the prostate, a small walnut-shaped gland in men that produces the seminal fluid that nourishes and transports sperm. It is considered one of the most common forms of male cancer, as it is estimated that about 1 in every 8 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point during their lifetime.
A positive antibody test, or ANA (Antinuclear Antibody Test) may suggest the presence of an underlying auto-immune disorder associated with systemic lupus erythematosus, scleroderma, primary biliary cirrhosis, rheumatoid arthritis or polymyositis/dermatomyositis. While not causative for these conditions themselves, a positive ANA has been increasingly linked to an increased risk for developing certain types malignancies such as ovarian tumors and lymphomas.
In some cases, a positive ANA may also be an indicator of early stage prostate cancer. In one study by researchers at Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota published in The New England Journal Of Medicine, researchers found that men who had tested positive for abnormal antibodies in their blood were 2.85 times more likely to have prostate cancer when examined by biopsy; whereas men who had a negative antigen test were found to have no evidence of malignancy present on biopsy exam. Further research into this association warrants further investigation but current findings support the potential link between autoimmunity and prostate malignancy.
Overall, a positive ANA test could be caused by many conditions; however, the most common cause is an autoimmune disorder. Autoimmune disorders have been found to have increased comorbidities with certain types of cancer, such as breast cancer and malignancies of the blood (leukemia and lymphomas).
Other causes may include:
- Lupus erythematosus
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Rheumatic fever
As with any medical condition, if a positive ANA result is found it is important to get further testing to rule out any potential underlying disease or disorder that could be causing your symptoms. It is also important to speak with your physician about lifestyle changes or possible treatments that may help you manage your symptoms.