Harvard Health Letter

Biologic therapy doesn't raise cancer risk in people with rheumatoid arthritis

Using biologic response modifiers (BRMs) can dramatically improve inflammation and symptoms in people with rheumatoid arthritis. However, there are theoretical reasons to worry that these powerful drugs might raise the risk of cancer. Fortunately, a recent study finds that these powerful medications don't significantly raise the risk of malignancy, at least for six months after they are started. The specific BRMs included in the study were abatacept, adalimumab, anakinra, certolizumab, etanercept, golimumab, infliximab, rituximab, and tocilizumab. BRMs work by stimulating the body's response to infection and disease. They are used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. The strength of this study is its large size. The research team analyzed data from 63 randomized controlled trials involving more than 29,000 people with rheumatoid arthritis. The limitation of the study is that it only examined a six month window following the start of BRM treatment, and cancer typically takes many years to develop. The study was published in the Sept. 5, 2012, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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