Do Arthritis Drugs Cause Cancer?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is investigating whether four drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other immune system diseases might increase the risk of cancer in children.

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The FDA has received reports of 30 cases of cancer among children and young adults treated with the drugs. The agency did not make clear how many children had taken the drugs.

The drugs involved are:

1. Enbrel, sold by Amgen and Wyeth
2. Remicade, sold by Johnson & Johnson and Schering-Plough
3. Humira, sold by Abbott Laboratories
4. Cimzia, sold by the Belgian company UCB

All of the drugs block a protein called tumor necrosis factor, and are therefore known as TNF-blockers. They are used to treat not only rheumatoid arthritis but also psoriasis, Crohn’s disease and other immune diseases.

Because the drugs block part of the immune system, it’s long been known that they might contribute to a higher risk of cancers and infections. The drugs’ labels contain warnings as such, including warning about a risk of lymphomas, which are cancers of immune system cells.

Among adults, meanwhile, one study found that those given Humira or Remicade to treat rheumatoid arthritis had 2.4 times the cancer rate of those in control groups.

Sources: New York Times June 5, 2008

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