According to research presented this week at the American College of Rheumatology Annual Scientific Meeting in Chicago, people taking anti-tumor necrosis factor therapies to treat rheumatoid arthritis have a higher risk of developing malignant melanoma.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease that causes pain, stiffness, swelling, and limitation in the motion and function of multiple joints. Though joints are the principal body parts affected by RA, inflammation can develop in other organs as well. An estimated 1.3 million Americans have RA, and the disease typically affects women twice as often as men.
Anti-TNF therapies suppress the immune system and taking these medications can increase the risk of developing infections. Additionally, recent research has reported a possible connection between the use of anti-TNF therapy and certain skin cancers including malignant melanoma. Researchers from Sweden recently reviewed data to investigate the risk of malignant melanoma in patients with RA compared to the general population, and to investigate whether anti-TNF treatment such as adalimumab (Humira®), etanercept (Enbrel®) and infliximab (Remicade®) elevates malignant melanoma risk in rheumatoid arthritis.
"Anti-TNF therapies are excellent drugs that have a major impact on the health and well-being of patients with rheumatoid arthritis," says investigator, Julia Fridman Simard, ScD; assistant professor at the Clinical Epidemiology Unit, Department of Medicine at the Karolinska Institutet. "Many patients are treated with these therapies, not just in rheumatoid arthritis, and it is important to understand the potential side effects to inform treatment decisions and clinical practice."
Using information from the Swedish Biologics Register, ARTIS, linked to other national Swedish registers, the researchers identified 56,336 individuals with rheumatoid arthritis − of which 8,453 were noted as starting anti-TNF therapy, as well as reference subjects from the general population. The risks of getting a malignant melanoma or any other cancer were compared between RA patients and the general population, and between RA patients treated, and not treated, with anti-TNF therapies.