Rheumatoid Arthritis and cancer risk

If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you may be at increased risk for certain cancers because of Rheumatoid Arthritis medications—or Rheumatoid Arthritis related inflammation itself.The best thing you can do is to be aware, but don’t worry excessively. “The risk of all of these is very, very low,” says Stanley Cohen, MD, clinical professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and co-director of the division of rheumatology at Presbyterian Hospital, in Dallas. “When you look at the numbers, the relative risk is higher but the actual risk is low.”Rheumatoid Arthritis has even been linked to a lower risk of some types of cancer.

1 Lung cancer

Rheumatoid Arthritis has been linked to lung cancer risk, possibly because smoking increases the chances of getting Rheumatoid Arthritis in the first place. Research suggests, however, that even nonsmokers with Rheumatoid Arthritis have a slightly higher risk of getting lung cancer.

“In the absence of smoking, the numbers are really small,” says Marc Hochberg, MD, MPH, professor of medicine and head of rheumatology and clinical immunology at the University of Maryland Medical Center, in Baltimore. “But there is a higher risk due to inflammation and scarring in the lungs from Rheumatoid Arthritis.” If you smoke, quit. Rheumatoid Arthritis patients with lung disease should avoid taking methotrexate or leflunomide because they may worsen lung damage, Dr. Hochberg says.

2 Skin cancer

Research suggests that melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, is more likely in people who take TNF inhibitors, possibly because these drugs suppress the immune system and signs of skin cancer.A 2007 study found that people with Rheumatoid Arthritis who take TNF inhibitors have more than double the risk of melanoma as Rheumatoid Arthritis patients who do not, although the actual risk was low (32 out of nearly 14,000 RA patients developed melanoma).

People with Rheumatoid Arthritis also appear to be at higher risk of developing more treatable types of non-melanoma skin cancer. A 2011 analysis found that people taking TNF inhibitors had a 45% greater chance of developing non-melanoma skin cancer. (The authors of both studies received money from pharmaceutical companies that make RA drugs.)

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