What Is Tumor Necrosis Factor?

Tumor Necrosis Factor Causes Inflammation

Doctor reviewing medical chart with senior man
Hero Images/Getty Images

Tumor necrosis factor (TNF), is a multifunctional proinflammatory cytokine involved in the inflammatory process. Macrophages, a type of white blood cell, which is part of your immune system, are the main source of TNF in your body.

Clinicians implicate this specific type of cytokine as a factor in many diseases, including:

What Are Cytokines?

Cytokines are chemical substances which deliver messages between cells in the body.

They play a part in many biological processes, including:

  • cell proliferation
  • apoptosis, the normal process of the death of a cell
  • lipid (fats) metabolism
  • coagulation, or formation of blood clots

What Are TNF Blockers?

TNF blocker drugs target the effects of tumor necrosis factor-alpha and suppress your immune system by blocking their activity. Patients who have health conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and Crohn's disease, may be treated with TNF blockers. 

TNF blocker drugs include:

Tumor Necrosis Factor and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Tumor necrosis factor-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 tumor necrosis factor-alpha, rendering it inactive, and interfering with inflammatory activity, ultimately decreasing joint damage.

In November 1998, Enbrel became the first TNF blocker drug approved by the FDA. Remicade was approved by the FDA in November 1999. Humira was approved by the FDA in December 2002.

According to rheumatologist Scott J. Zashin, M.D, at least 70% of patients with rheumatoid arthritis who start one of the TNF blocker drugs will experience significant improvement in their condition.

Dr. Zashin is the author of Arthritis Without Pain - The Miracle of TNF Blockers. The book is a must-have for anyone taking or considering the biologic drugs. Read our review of the book.

What You Need to Know About TNF Blockers

TNF blockers are not taken orally. Instead, you must inject them under your skin or into your vein, usually in your thigh or abdomen. According to patient reports, changes in your symptoms begin to occur after two or three doses.

If your doctor prescribes an injectable TNF blocker for you, he, a nurse or a pharmacist will teach you how to do it yourself. So, you won't have to go to the doctor's office.

If your doctor prescribes infliximab or golimumab, you will have to go to an infusion center or a doctor's office for up to 3 hours to receive your treatment. These drugs are not injectable.

Side Effects of Tumor Necrosis Factor Blockers

TNF blockers can cause side effects. The most common is an injection site reaction, which is usually a localized rash accompanied by a burning sensation or itching.

An increased risk of all types of infections is the most significant side effect of TNF blockers because they suppress your immune system.

Make sure your doctor tests you for tuberculosis and hepatitis B before starting treatment.


American College of Rheumatology: Anti-TNF Drugs (2015)

National Institutes of Health: TNF - Tumor Necrosis Factor in Humans (2016)

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Information on Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) Blockers - Marketed as Remicade, Enbrel, Humira, Cimzia, and Simponi (2015)

Continue Reading