Arthritis Drugs Unlikely to Increase Cancer Risk

Study finds anti-tumor necrosis factor α agents are not associated with elevation in cancer risk
By A. Agrawal, PhD
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Nov. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients who start taking anti-tumor necrosis factor α (anti-TNFα) drugs are not likely to have a higher risk of developing cancer than other groups of RA patients, according to a Swedish study in the November issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism.

Johan Askling, M.D., of Karolinska University Hospital at Solna in Stockholm, Sweden, and colleagues compared the risk of cancer in 6,366 RA patients newly being prescribed anti-TNFα treatment, 61,160 biologics-naive RA patients, 5,989 RA patients being prescribed methotrexate, 1,838 RA patients starting disease-modifying antirheumatic drug combination therapy, and the general population of Sweden.

During 25,693 person-years of follow-up, the researchers diagnosed 240 first cancers among RA patients taking anti-TNFα drugs. The risk of cancer was similar in all four groups of RA patients, with a relative risk of approximately 1.0. The relative risks did not increase with increasing time since starting anti-TNFα treatment or the total treatment time. During the first year of treatment, there was a lower risk of cancer in patients who first took etanercept and a higher risk in patients who first took infliximab or adalimumab, but these differences disappeared after one year.

"During the first six years after the start of anti-TNF therapy in routine care, no overall elevation of cancer risk and no increase with follow-up time were observed," the authors conclude.

ARTIS, the Swedish Biologics Register, which supported the study, received maintenance funding from several pharmaceutical companies, and several of the authors reported financial and consulting relationships with pharmaceutical companies.

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