Biologic treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and the risk of malignancy: analyses from a large US observational study

Arthritis Rheum. 2007 Sep;56(9):2886-95. doi: 10.1002/art.22864.


Objective: Induction of malignancy is a major concern when rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is treated with biologic therapy. A meta-analysis of RA biologic clinical trials found a general increased risk of malignancy, but this risk was not found in a large observational study. We undertook this study to assess the risk of malignancy among biologic-treated patients in a large US observational database.

Methods: We studied incident cases of cancer among 13,001 patients during approximately 49,000 patient-years of observation in the years 1998-2005. Cancer rates were compared with population rates using the US National Cancer Institute SEER (Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End-Results) database. Assessment of the risk of biologic therapy utilized conditional logistic regression to calculate odds ratios (ORs) as estimates of the relative risk, further adjusted for 6 confounders: age, sex, education level, smoking history, RA severity, and prednisone use.

Results: Biologic exposure was 49%. There were 623 incident cases of nonmelanotic skin cancer and 537 other cancers. The standardized incidence ratios and 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs) compared with SEER data were as follows: all cancers 1.0 (1.0-1.1), breast 0.8 (0.6-0.9), colon 0.5 (0.4-0.6), lung 1.2 (1.0-1.4), lymphoma 1.7 (1.3-2.2). Biologics were associated with an increased risk of nonmelanotic skin cancer (OR 1.5, 95% CI 1.2-1.8) and melanoma (OR 2.3, 95% CI 0.9-5.4). No other malignancy was associated with biologic use; the OR (overall risk) of any cancer was 1.0 (95% CI 0.8-1.2).

Conclusion: Biologic therapy is associated with increased risk for skin cancers, but not for solid tumors or lymphoproliferative malignancies. These associations were consistent across different biologic therapies.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / therapy*
  • Biological Therapy / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Risk Factors
  • United States