Arthritis drugs do not appear to raise cancer risk

Sat Oct 25, 2008 8:10pm EDT
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By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Popular rheumatoid arthritis drugs that block a protein linked with inflammation do not appear to raise the overall risk of cancer, Spanish researchers said on Saturday.

The drugs, known as TNF blockers, suppress the immune system by blocking the activity of an inflammatory protein called tumor necrosis factor, or TNF.

They have been used since 1998, but some studies have suggested the drugs raise the risk of cancer -- particularly lung cancer and lymphoma -- by toning down the immune system.

"Despite foreseen fears, blocking the tumor necrosis factor does not make patients more prone to develop cancer," Dr. Loreto Carmona of the Fundacion Espanola de Reumatologia in Madrid said in a statement.

Carmona, who is presenting his research at the American College of Rheumatology's annual meeting in San Francisco, used health data collected from two Spanish registries -- databases of patients.

One included nearly 4,500 people taking the drugs from 2001 through 2007; while the other included data from 1999 through 2005 on nearly 800 people with RA not taking the drugs.

Overall, the researchers found 70 cases of cancer in the group that took the drugs, compared with 29 cases in the group that did not take the drugs.