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Rheumatoid Arthritis Therapy May Increase Skin Cancer Risk

Overall cancer risk is no different, but skin cancer rates in patients receiving biologic therapy are higher versus general population

THURSDAY, Aug. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Patients with rheumatoid arthritis who undergo biologic therapy may have an increased risk of skin cancer but not other tumor types, researchers report in the September issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism.

Frederick Wolfe, M.D., of the University of Kansas School of Medicine in Wichita, and a colleague compared the incidence of a variety of cancers among 13,001 registrants with rheumatoid arthritis in the U.S. National Data Bank for Rheumatic Diseases with cancer rates in the general population.

The researchers found that patients who received biologic therapy faced no extra risk of all cancers (odds ratio 1.0). However, the use of biologics was associated with a higher risk of melanoma (OR, 2.3) and non-melanotic skin cancer (OR, 1.5). The lack of association departed from the results of a 2006 meta-analysis, which found that the odds ratio for malignancy in patients who had undergone biologic therapy compared to those without the treatment was 3.3.

"Although our data do not show associations between malignancy and biologic therapy, except for skin cancers, the mean and median exposure to biologics was only 3.0 years. It is possible that with increasing time of follow-up or of exposure, the association between malignancy and biologic therapy would become stronger," the authors write. "However, true associations are regularly seen within this time frame, since post-transplantation studies have shown increased risk after the first year of treatment."

Research support received from Abbott, Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Centocor, Merck, Pfizer and Wyeth-Australia.

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