Last fall, actress and singer Selena Gomez made a surprising announcement: Not only had she been battling lupus, a chronic autoimmune condition that can cause muscle and joint pain, but she also had undergone chemotherapy to treat it.

Recently, the drugs most of us associate exclusively with fighting cancer have been making waves outside oncology, helping patients with often-debilitating diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis. "It's been a well-kept secret that we're borrowing drugs from our oncologist friends," says rheumatologist Susan Manzi, MD, a member of the Lupus Foundation of America's Medical-Scientific Advisory Council. "In fact, a chemotherapy drug that has been used to fight breast cancer is one of the most common drugs worldwide for the management of rheumatoid arthritis."

Here's why it works: One side effect of chemotherapy is a suppressed immune system, and that suppression is the exact response doctors are aiming for when treating certain autoimmune conditions. Drugs are administered via a pill or an IV, and their goal is the same as in cancer cases: to control the abnormal behavior of cells. One big difference lies in the dosage; people with autoimmune diseases typically get a lower dose than cancer patients, which may mean fewer side effects.


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