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Systemic sclerosis is on the rise in Quebec, especially in children, study finds

While mortality rates for the autoimmune disease have declined, uneven geographic distribution of cases points to need for tailored interventions, further research
Published: 10 July 2024

The number of new cases of systemic sclerosis (SSc) is on the rise in Quebec, particularly among children, a new study has found.

The findings, published in The Lancet Regional Health – Americas, should serve as a call to action for health-care providers, policy-makers and researchers, suggests Elena Netchiporouk, corresponding author and Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at McGill University.

A chronic autoimmune condition characterized by fibrosis of the skin and internal organs, systemic sclerosis poses significant challenges to patients and health-care systems worldwide. To better understand its impact, Netchiporouk and her colleagues embarked on a comprehensive analysis of SSc trends in Quebec using data from 1996 to 2019.

The researchers observed a steady increase in both the number of new cases of systemic sclerosis over a defined period of time and the total number of cases. Of particular concern was the sharp rise in the rate of new cases among children, signalling possible demographic shifts in whom the disease strikes.

Despite these trends, the researchers found mortality rates among systemic sclerosis patients declined over the same period, suggesting there have been improvements in treatment strategies and patient care.

The study also found that new cases of systemic sclerosis were concentrated more in Eastern and Northern Quebec than other regions. This finding hints at the influence of environmental or regional factors on disease susceptibility, and points to the need for tailored interventions, such as increased screening in at-risk regions and for affected age groups, and targeted research efforts to address these disparities, the researchers say.

“By demonstrating temporal trends in incidence, prevalence, mortality and geographic distribution of systemic sclerosis, this study serves as a foundation for future research, disease awareness and health-care planning related to systemic sclerosis,” said Netchiporouk.

Epidemiology of systemic sclerosis in Quebec, Canada: a population-based study by Anastasiya Muntyanu, Mohammed Kaouache, Elham Rahme, Stephanie Ghazal, Elena Netchiporouk et al., was published in The Lancet Regional Health – Americas. It was funded by National Scleroderma Foundation and Canadian Dermatology Foundation/Canadian Institutes of Health.

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