TNFa Blockers Up Skin Cancer Risk, Study Finds

A new study is reporting an increased risk of skin cancer associated with the rheumatoid arthritis drugs Cimzia, Enbrel, Humira, Remicade, and Simponi. The study, which appears in the online issue of the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, found that such drugs, known as <"">tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFa) blockers, increase the risk of non-melanoma skin cancer risk by 45 percent. An 80 percent increased risk of melanoma was also reported.

TNFa blockers target and neutralize a protein that, when overproduced in the body due to chronic inflammatory diseases, can cause inflammation and damage to bones, cartilage and tissue. In addition to rheumatoid arthritis, drugs like Cimzia, Enbrel, Humira, Remicade, and Simponi are also used to treat Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, plaque psoriasis, and/or juvenile idiopathic arthritis.

This latest TNFa study consisted of a meta-analysis of 21 studies conducted between 1998 and 2010, as well as eight abstracts presented at research conferences during that same period. In total, the meta-analysis involved 40,000 patients and 150,000 patient-years of treatment According to WebMD, while the study did not include Cimzia and Simponi, as they were approved only two years ago, the study authors said any cancer risk is probably common to the entire class of drugs.

According to a report from HeathDay News, four of the studies collectively showed that TNFa blockers increased the risk for non-melanoma skin cancer by 45 percent. Two other studies suggested that therapy raised the specific risk for developing melanoma by nearly 80 percent.

There was some good news, as seven of the studies indicated no notable risk increase for any type of cancer associated with the use of TNFa blockers. Another two long-term studies similarly suggested that while rheumatoid arthritis patients who’d had cancer in the past were more likely to get the disease again, therapy with a TNFa blocker alone posed no additional cancer risk.

Cancer has long been a concern with TNFa blockers. In 2009, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) mandated that the Black Box Warnings for TNFa blockers highlight their possible association with lymphoma and other cancers in children and teens.

Because they suppress the immune system, people treated with TNFa blockers also face an increased risk of developing serious infections. Earlier this week, the FDA announced that information about an increased risk of Listeria and Legionella infections was being added to the labels of all TNFa blockers.

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