Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatments and Breast Cancer Risk

Study Finds Biologics Show No Increased Risk of Breast Cancer

Samuel Ashfield/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Breast Cancer Risk

Research shows no evidence to date that rheumatoid arthritis therapy increases the risk of breast cancer, particularly the newest medications. The National Databank for Rheumatic Diseases (NDB) presented the research at the annual European Congress of Rheumatology held by the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) in 2005.

The new medications, known as biologic response modifiers or biologics, include the drugs:

These medications were of special interest because many older treatments do increase the risk of some cancers in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients. A previous NDB study found an association between the biologics and non-melanoma skin cancer.

The research cautions that because the drugs have only been on the market for a few years, patient exposure to the therapy may be too short for a firm conclusion and that further study will be necessary.

What Are Biologic Response Modifiers?

Biologic response modifiers are among the newest drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Biologics are medications which are based on compounds that are made by living cells. Biological therapy employs biologic response modifiers to stimulate or restore the ability of the immune system to fight disease and/or infection. Biologics can include:

  • interferon
  • interleukin-2
  • various types of colony-stimulating factors

The drugs Enbrel, Remicade, and Humira, target the effects of TNF-alpha. TNF-alpha is one of the most important cytokines involved in rheumatoid arthritis through its entanglement in the cascade of inflammatory reactions. TNF blockers bind to TNF-alpha, rendering it inactive, and interfering with inflammatory activity, ultimately decreasing joint damage.

About the Study

The study, authored by Dr. Fred Wolfe and Kaleb Michaud, used a longitudinal rheumatic disease data bank of 16,398 female rheumatoid arthritis patients who did not have known breast cancer when the study began. Patients were followed for up to 6 years.

The study found no statistically significant associations between breast cancer and current, prior or lifetime RA treatments, including biologics and the more common methotrexate and corticosteroid treatments. Further, no measures of disease severity were associated with breast cancer. The only demographic variable that predicts breast cancer among rheumatoid arthritis patients is age, with the highest rates occurring between the ages of 55 and 70. Smoking and body mass index were not found to be predictive.

What Is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancers are potentially life-threatening malignancies that begin in the tissues of the breast.

According to ADAM, over the course of a lifetime, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Faith Addiss writes in What Is Breast Cancer?, "Most breast cancers are slow-growing and by the time a lump can be felt, it may have been growing for 5 or 10 years. Early breast cancer usually has no symptoms and the earlier a tumor is found, the better the chance of survival."

For More Information on Breast Cancer:

  • Breast Cancer (articles, resources, and information from About.com)

What Is The National Databank for Rheumatic Diseases?

The National Databank for Rheumatic Diseases (NDB) is a non-profit research databank performing unique clinical research in rheumatic diseases. The NDB is currently seeking patients who have a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, lupus or any other rheumatic conditions.

NDB research is designed to improve the treatment and outcomes of these conditions. The NDB performs outcomes research by direct interaction with rheumatology patients. Patients report on all aspects of their illness in detailed semi-annual questionnaires.

Source: National Databank for Rheumatic Diseases, EULAR 2005 Press Release

Continue Reading