TUESDAY, July 10, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- People with rheumatoid arthritis are routinely screened for breast, cervical and colon cancer, a new study found, contradicting previous reports that they receive fewer cancer screenings than people without the condition.
The study, published July 10 in Arthritis & Rheumatism, showed that people with the rheumatoid arthritis, as well as those without the condition, were screened once every three years for cervical cancer. Both groups were also screened for breast cancer every two years.
"Early detection of common cancers can improve morbidity and mortality rates in those with chronic illnesses, such as [rheumatoid arthritis]," Dr. Seoyoung Kim, with the divisions of rheumatology and pharmacoepidemiology at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said in a journal news release. "Cancer screening tests are important in detecting malignancies at early stages for both chronically ill and healthy populations."
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease that's more common in women than in men. The disorder attacks joint tissues and sometimes organs, causing swelling, inflammation, fever and fatigue. It usually develops between the ages of 30 and 60 but can occur at other ages, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
In conducting the study, the researchers used insurance claims to identify more than 13,000 patients with rheumatoid arthritis and more than 200,000 patients without the condition. They compared screening rates for breast, cervical and colon cancer between both groups.
Among participants who were at least 50 years old, 12 percent of rheumatoid arthritis patients had at least one colonoscopy each year, compared with 10 percent of patients without arthritis.
The researchers noted that women with rheumatoid arthritis were more likely to have an annual Pap smear, mammogram, fecal occult blood test and colonoscopy than women who did not have the disease. Men with the condition were also more likely to have a colonoscopy than other men.
"Our findings indicate that [rheumatoid arthritis] patients were regularly screened for cervical, breast and colon cancer as recommended by the American Cancer Society," Kim noted. "Cancer screenings rates among patients with [rheumatoid arthritis] were similar to the general population, which is different than previously published results."
The researchers pointed out that preventive health care is critical for patients with chronic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis. They noted however, that the study was limited to patients with health insurance.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about rheumatoid arthritis.