Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment May Increase Risk of Skin Cancer


Rheumatoid arthritis sufferers can’t catch a break. Not only do they suffer with chronic pain and stiffness, now a key medical treatment may be linked to an increased risk of certain skin cancers. The medicine in question is known as tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors, which include infliximab (Remicade), adalimunab (Humira), and etanercept (Enbrel), and they appear to up the risk of skin cancer.

The current review looked at a group of 21 studies from 1998 to 2010 involving more than 40,000 patients who had been exposed to TNF inhibitor drugs. There was no associated risk found in seven of the studies; however in four of the studies concluded that TNF inhibitors upped non-melanoma skin cancer risk by 45 percent. Two more studies showed that those who had previous skin cancers had a higher chance of having a reoccurrence, but those who hadn’t didn’t have an increased risk.

So what to do with this information for those rheumatoid arthritis sufferers who are taking these TNF inhibitors? Make sure to follow up with a dermatologist immediately if you or your doctor notices any skin abnormalities. And be extra vigilant in skin cancer protection.

The best ways to lower your risk of skin cancer include:

  • Avoid sun exposure from two hours before peak sunlight to two hours after.
  • Consider avoiding chemical sun filtering agents, and looking for natural agents such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide — as well as protective clothing and shade.
  • When using sunscreen, apply it liberally and often.
  • Wear hats and sunglasses.


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