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New Study of Rheumatoid Arthritis Biologics Finds No Cancer Link

Posted on Oct 08, 2012

A recent U.S. News health report brings good news to people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). According to a new analysis of clinical trials, drugs known as biologics that are commonly used to treat RA do not appear to cause cancer, as was previously reported in several studies. 

Full results of the analysis can be found in the September 5, 2012, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. For many patients with RA, the use of biologics has radically changed their treatment plan.

Biologic agents such as abatacept (brand name, Orencia), adalimumab (Humira), anakinra (Kineret), certolizumab, (Cimzia), golimumab (Simponi), infliximab (Remicade), rituximab (Rituxan), and tocilizumab (Actemre) have been successful in treating RA.

According to Dr. Nadera Sweiss, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago, “Biologic therapy revolutionized the treatment of [rheumatoid arthritis]. She said biologic drugs are “introduced earlier in the disease course to control inflammatory activity early on and decrease the risk of disability.”

Unfortunately, earlier studies have left patients with RA nervous about the potential adverse effects of using biologics, such as the possibility of an increased risk for developing certain types of cancer.

The analysis, which was conducted at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, found no increased risk of cancer when biologics were compared with other types of drugs used in treating RA, or placebo.

In the analysis, the researchers assessed 63 randomized controlled trials of commonly prescribed biologics. Altogether, the trials included almost 29,500 patients. In each of the trials, the duration of the follow-up period was at least 24 weeks. 

While these recent findings are promising, further evaluation is required. According to Dr. Sweiss, “There is still a concern about long-term safety.”

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John L. Keefe
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