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Arthritis Drugs Linked to Skin Cancer Risk

Thursday, December 27, 2007 by: David Gutierrez

(NewsTarget) "TNF blocker" drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis increase a patient's risk of contracting skin cancer, according to a new study published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.

Researchers compiled data from twice-yearly questionnaires filled out by 13,001 rheumatoid arthritis patients between 1998 and 2005, and found that those taking TNF blockers had a slightly higher risk of contracting skin cancer than patients not taking the medications.

Because rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, in which the body is attacked by its own immune system, TNF blocker drugs disrupt a critical immune pathway. As a result, the drugs are believed to expose patients to an increased risk of serious infections.

The exact nature of the link to cancer is still being investigated. The current study was the third to find an increased cancer risk associated with the use of TNF blockers.

"Three major clinical trials, in their malignancy data, all have some indication there is a problem with skin cancer with these drugs," said Mayo Clinic rheumatologist Tim Bongartz, who was not involved in the study. "This has huge implications in how we examine [and advise] these patients."

Three kinds of TNF blockers have been approved for use in the United States. Of these, most of the participants in the new study were taking Remicade, with most of the rest taking Enbrel and very few taking Humira.

Lead researcher Frederick Wolfe, the director of the National Data Bank for Rheumatic Diseases, said that even with the increased cancer risk, there is no need for patients who need the medication to stop taking it.

"It is a small overall risk and I don't think people should be concerned," he said.

Bongartz agreed, saying that even the increased risk of infection only means that doctors need to monitor patients who are taking TNF blockers more carefully.

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