What Disease Does Selena Gomez Have?
Selena Gomez has been candid about her battle with lupus since her 2014 diagnosis. The singer and actress, 29, has been open about the toll chemotherapy for her autoimmune disease has taken on her career and mental health, in addition to the kidney transplant she received in 2017.
“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,” she said in the cover story for Elle magazine’s September issue, which came out on Thursday.
She had already spoken briefly about chemotherapy before. In 2015, Gomez revealed to Billboard that she had to take time away from the spotlight due to her treatments, which led to speculation that she was addicted to the drugs she was taking. “A lupus diagnosis and subsequent chemotherapy have impacted my life.
The reason for my time off was this, “Gomez said to the magazine in response to the rumors. “The words “You guys have no idea” kept running through my head. My treatment entails the use of chemotherapy drugs. A bunch of jackasses, that’s what you are. I hid from the world until I could face it again with assurance.”
Lupus, or Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue and organs. Lupus is a multi-system disease that can manifest in many ways, influencing organs as diverse as the skin, joints, heart, lungs, kidneys, and the central nervous system. In some cases, like Gomez’s, doctors use chemotherapy drugs to suppress the autoimmune response responsible for the disease. Still, ultimately treatment for lupus depends on the severity of the patient’s symptoms.
How And Why Is Chemotherapy Used To Treat Lupus?
Chemotherapy is a class of drugs used primarily in treating cancer because of their toxic effect on healthy cells. However, besides cancer, doctors often prescribe chemotherapy for blood disorders and autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Although some of the same medications are used to treat cancer and lupus, these two conditions are not remotely related.
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Dr. Andrew Wang, a rheumatologist at Yale Medicine and an assistant professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine, says that cancer develops when cells divide uncontrollably, become excessively large, and destroy nearby tissues and organs. However, autoimmunity occurs when one’s cells begin attacking one’s organs and tissues.
Dr. Wang says that cancer chemotherapy drugs can help with lupus because the process of autoimmunity is very similar. Cells must divide to multiply and then invade the body. According to Dr. Wang’s comments to Health, “the thought is, if you can stop the rapidly dividing phase, you can get rid of the autoimmunity.”
Chemotherapy drugs are also used differently for patients with autoimmune diseases due to the differences in how the two diseases function. Treatment for lupus typically entails a much lower dose of chemotherapy than that used to treat cancer, says Amr Sawalha, MD, chief of the division of pediatric rheumatology and director of the Comprehensive Lupus Center of Excellence at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Dr. Sawalha tells Health that immunosuppression “is preferable to killing the immune cells” because it prevents future attacks on the body’s organs and tissues. This is why he says immunotherapy treatment is more commonly used than the term “chemotherapy” to describe what doctors do for lupus.
Doctors prescribe one of several chemotherapy drugs for lupus patients based on their symptoms (and how severe they are). Chemotherapy drugs come in pill form and are sometimes taken orally; others are administered intravenously. Dr. Sawalha emphasizes that the adverse effects of these therapies are typically much less severe than those of cancer treatment. Immunosuppressants, for instance, can cause a milder version of the hair loss seen with chemotherapy.
Dr. Wang says that most lupus patients don’t have nearly as severe gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea as some. Dr. Sawalha emphasizes that even though the adverse effects of chemotherapy drugs are typically less powerful, they still exist. He describes avoiding “over suppressing the immune system and reducing the patient’s white blood cell count.”
What Are Other Treatment Options For Lupus?
One option for treating lupus is chemotherapy, but it is not the only one. Dr. Wang says, “There are only a few drugs we share with cancer that are effective for lupus and autoimmunity in general.” In other words, “most of the drugs lupus patients would get are not used with cancer.”
Steroids, which work by dampening the immune system overall, are one strategy for avoiding autoimmunity. Unfortunately, doctors must exercise caution when prescribing steroids due to their potential side effects. Dr. Sawalha says that to reduce the risk of permanent harm, “we aim to use steroids at the lowest dose possible for the shortest duration.”
— Selena Gomez (@selenagomez) March 12, 2021
He continues by saying that doctors frequently combine steroids with other, slower-acting treatments because of their effectiveness during acute flare-ups. Biologics are another treatment option for lupus, and they work by suppressing the production of autoimmune antibodies in specific cells as opposed to the immune system as a whole.
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Dr. Sawalha reports that there are currently two biological drugs approved by the FDA for treating lupus: Benlysta (belimumab), which was first approved to treat SLE in 2011, and then active lupus nephritis (kidney disease caused by lupus) in December 2020; and Saphnelo (nivolumab-final), which will be approved in August 2021.
Dr. Sawalha says that in cases of milder symptoms, he may recommend the immunomodulator hydroxychloroquine in addition to steroids. He would consider immunosuppressants for patients with more severe symptoms, such as kidney failure like Gomez experienced. It is possible to increase dosage “if other medications aren’t controlling a patient’s disease,”
He says. While all of these medications have the potential to improve lupus symptoms, Dr. Sawalha emphasizes that each patient is different, and the best treatment options will be determined by the specifics of each case and administered at the discretion of the patient’s entire medical team.
Who Is Selena Gomez?
Performer, actress, and producer Selena Gomez is multitalented. Most people recognize her from her role as Alex Russo on the Disney Channel show Wizards of Waverly Place. She has also made cameos in movies like Ramona and Beezus, Monte Carlo, and Spring Breakers. She has two albums under her name: Stars Dance and Revival.
On July 22, 1992, the world was introduced to Selena Gomez in Grand Prairie, Texas. Her parents got into real estate after starting on stage. Amanda is the name of her older sister. In 1993, when Selena was only seven years old, she landed a role on the popular children’s TV show Barney & Friends. She had several guest-starring roles on television and in the movies before she landed the lead role in the 2007 sitcom Wizards of Waverly Place.
Gomez’s big break came when she was cast as Alex Russo on the Disney Channel’s Wizards of Waverly Place in 2007. After four seasons, she was a recognized face in the youth demographic, thanks to the show. She then became a leading actress in films such as Ramona and Beezus, Monte Carlo, and Spring Breakers. In addition to her collaborative work, Gomez has released two solo albums: Stars Dance and Revival.
She has experience as a producer behind the camera and in front of it. She has served in an executive capacity on the 13 Reasons Why and Only Murders in the Building series for Netflix and Hulu, respectively. Due to her lupus, Selena Gomez revealed in 2018 that she had a kidney transplant. She has also been transparent about her battles with depression and anxiety. Singer Justin Bieber has been linked romantically to Gomez. The couple’s relationship has been on and off for a long time.