Tumor necrosis factor inhibitors such as etanercept (Enbrel) or infliximab (Remicade) are some of the newest and most expensive drugs available to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Because they are so effective for many people with RA, the numbers of people taking them has been growing significantly over the last few years, despite the very high cost of the drugs and the risk of harmful side effects such as serious infections and several types of skin, lung, breast and blood cancers.
A new study reported in the September issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism, has found that people taking these drugs may be at a slightly increased risk for skin cancer. The researchers qualified this finding by stating that the risk is small enough that the benefits of taking the drugs probably outweigh the risk.
The researchers studied data collected on 13,001 patients with rheumatoid arthritis and found 623 cases of skin cancer and 537 cases of other cancers. Interestingly, while they found that anti-TNF-alpha medications, like Enbrel and Remicade, were associated with a small increase in the risk of skin cancer, they did not find any increased risk for other cancers. Melanoma, the most serious skin cancer, had about twice the risk, but the numbers would be less than one in a thousand. The researchers also noted that people taking the drugs over a long period could be likely to have other problems as well.
I will wait until more research is conducted before I get excited about this study. The findings contradict other studies that have suggested a greater risk for people taking TNF-inhibitors. Some studies have shown a higher risk in the likelihood of developing a serious infection, like pneumonia or one of several forms of cancers, lymphoma being the most common. But this study will be good news for RA patients if the data holds true. We may be able to rest a bit easier and focus on the disease relief offered by the drugs if the side-effect risk really is that small.
Site expert Dr. Mark Borigini discusses the expense of treating a chronic illness and the cost of new drug therapies, like TNF-inhibitors.
Watch this video to learn how TNF-inhibitors work and the successful role they can play in managing Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Learn more about the signs and symptoms of skin cancer, and how you can reduce your risk of developing the disease.
Published On: September 10, 2007