Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Font Size

Arthritis Drugs May Up Cancer Risk

Study Also Shows TNF-Blockers May Increase Risk of Infection
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 16, 2006 -- Rheumatoid arthritisRheumatoid arthritis patients who take the newer biologic medications have a threefold increase in cancercancer risk over patients who don't take them, a new analysis suggests.

Researchers also concluded that the patients taking the tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-blocking drugs Remicade and Humira were twice as likely to develop serious infections.

Rheumatoid arthritisarthritis patients are at increased risk for infections, regardless of their treatment, and recent studies indicate that patients are also more likely to develop malignancies.

In rheumatoid arthritis, the body's immune system attacks the joints and sometimes other organs. For those patients with moderate to severe disease, drugs (such as TNF blockers and methotrexate) which help suppress the immune system can be used for treatment.

Putting Risk in Perspective

The new analysis, published in the May 17 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, offers some of the strongest evidence yet that TNF-blocking drugs, which have been used by more than half a million patients, further increase the risk of malignancies.

Patients should be made aware of the risks associated with treatment, but these risks should not be overstated, says researcher Eric Matteson, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

He points out that the long-term cancer risk among patients who use the drugs is not known because none of the studies has lasted much longer than a year.

"Rheumatoid arthritis is a bad disease, and patients have severe functional limitations and even decreased life expectancy," he tells WebMD. "There is no question that these drugs represent a major advance in the treatment of this disease. The drugs improve function, reduce joint destruction, and even improve survival."

Higher Doses, More Cancers

Three TNF-inhibiting biologics have been approved for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritisrheumatoid arthritis - Remicade, Humira, and Enbrel.

Enbrel studies were not included in the analysis because the drug acts somewhat differently than the other two medications. But there is no suggestion that it is any safer or less safe than the others with regard to cancercancer and infection risk, Matteson says.

Today on WebMD

rubbing hands
Avoid these 6 common mistakes.
mature couple exercising
Decrease pain, increase energy.
mature woman threading needle
How much do you know?
Swelling, fatigue, pain, and more.
Lucille Ball
Hand bones X-ray
prescription pills
Woman massaging her neck
woman roasting vegetables in oven
Woman rubbing shoulder
Working out with light weights