24-year-old pop star Selena Gomez recently announced she suffers from lupus—a disease where the body’s own immune system attacks itself—and has undergone chemotherapy to treat her symptoms. Many people were (and are) confused by her revelation: Isn’t chemotherapy for cancer?
Here are some common misconceptions about lupus as well as the facts:
Misconception: Chemo is just for cancer.
Reality: Chemotherapy drugs are used in the treatment of lupus, even though the autoimmune disease is in no way related to cancer. The chemotherapy drugs that work on lupus usually have immunosuppressive effects, meaning they stop the body from attacking itself.
Misconception: You’ll know if you have lupus: It always shows up as an angry, butterfly-shaped rash across the face.
Reality: Just 40 percent of lupus patients have the butterfly, or malar, rash.
Misconception: For those who do suffer from the facial rash, a couple of hours in direct sunlight can clear it up.
Reality: Not only is UV light bad for butterfly rash, it can also cause systemic lupus flares, creating problems inside the body.
Misconception: Lupus is uncommon.
Reality: According to the Lupus Foundation of America, at least 1.5 million Americans have lupus—and 90% of those living with lupus are women.
Misconception: It’s rare to see lupus diagnosed in someone as young as Selena Gomez.
Reality: Diagnosis usually occurs during childbearing years: from ages 15 through 44.
Misconception: Selena Gomez is the only celebrity living with lupus.
Reality: Seal, Nick Cannon, Toni Braxton and Lady Gaga have all gone on record saying they suffer from lupus. Michael Jackson was diagnosed in 1986. The disease is two to three times more common in people of color than among Caucasians.
Misconception: Lupus is incurable and almost always deadly.
Reality: 25 years ago, according to the Lupus Research Institute, only 40 percent of people diagnosed with lupus were expected to live more than three years. Now, the vast majority can be expected to enjoy a normal lifespan.