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Newer Rheumatoid Arthritis Drugs Don't Raise Cancer Risk: Study

THURSDAY, Sept. 6 (HealthDay News) -- A new review finds that rheumatoid arthritis medications known as biologics don't raise the risk of cancer, contrary to what some previous research has suggested.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects an estimated 1 percent of the general population, with women three times more likely to have it. Different from age-related osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is debilitating autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation of the lining of the joints.

Biologics work by targeting specific parts of the immune system involved in the inflammation process.

Previous studies have raised questions about whether the drugs might boost the risk of cancer. The new study appears in the Sept. 5 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers, led by a researcher at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, looked at 63 randomized controlled trials of the drugs that featured follow-up periods of at least 24 weeks. In total, the studies analyzed nearly 29,500 patients.

The biologic medications are abatacept (Orencia), adalimumab (Humira), anakinra (Kineret), certolizumab (Cimzia), etanercept (Enbrel), golimumab (Simponi), infliximab (Remicade), rituximab (Rituxan), and tocilizumab (Actemra).

The analysis didn't find any extra risk of cancer compared to other drugs for rheumatic arthritis or a placebo.

The drugs are commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, said Dr. Nadera Sweiss, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine who was not involved with the study.

"Biologic therapy revolutionized the treatment of [rheumatoid arthritis]," she said, and explained that these drugs are "introduced earlier in the disease course to control inflammatory activity early on and decrease the risk of disability."

Fear of cancer, however, has been a major issue for patients, she said, especially in those who may need to be on the medications for life.

As for the new analysis, she praised it but said it's limited because it examines the effect of the drugs up to 24 weeks. "There is still a concern about long-term safety," she said.

More information:

For more about rheumatoid arthritis, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCES: Nadera Sweiss, M.D., associate professor, medicine, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine; Sept. 5, 2012, Journal of the American Medical Association

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