Biologic Therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis Linked with Increased Risk of Skin Cancer

Biologic Therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis Linked with Increased Risk of Skin Cancer

According to the results of a study published in Arthritis and Rheumatism, treatment of rheumatoid arthritis with drugs such as Remicade® (infliximab) or Enbrel® (etanercept) may increase the risk of skin cancer but does not appear to increase the risk of other types of cancer.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of function in the joints. Patients with rheumatoid arthritis have been reported to have an increased risk of cancers such as lung cancer, skin cancer, and leukemia or lymphoma, and a decreased risk of breast cancer and colon cancer.

Among patients with rheumatoid arthritis, risk of cancer may be influenced not only by the rheumatoid arthritis itself, but also by the drugs used to manage the condition. To explore the effects on cancer risk of a type of rheumatoid arthritis treatment known as biologic therapy, researchers conducted a study among more than 13,000 individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. The risk of cancer among individuals who had used biologic therapy was compared to the risk of cancer among those who had not used biologic therapy.

Biologic therapy drugs included Remicade® (infliximab), Enbrel® (etanercept), Humira® (adalimumab), and Kineret® (anakinra).

  • Use of biologic therapy increased the risk of nonmelanoma skin cancer (such as basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma) by roughly 50%.
  • Use of biologic therapy also appeared to increase the risk of melanoma, but this result was not statistically significant; this means that the result could have occurred by chance.
  • Risk of other cancers was similar among users and nonusers of biologic therapy.

The researchers conclude that biologic therapy for rheumatoid arthritis may increase the risk of skin cancer but does not appear to increase the risk of other types of cancer.

Reference: Wolfe F, Michaud K. Biologic treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and the risk of malignancy: Analyses from a large U.S. observational study. Arthritis and Rheumatism. 2007;56:2886-2895.

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