Influence of anti-tumor necrosis factor therapy on cancer incidence in patients with rheumatoid arthritis who have had a prior malignancy: results from the British Society for Rheumatology Biologics Register

Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2010 Jun;62(6):755-63. doi: 10.1002/acr.20129.


Objective: To explore the influence of anti-tumor necrosis factor (anti-TNF) therapy upon the incidence of cancer in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and prior malignancy.

Methods: Using data from the British Society for Rheumatology Biologics Register, a national prospective observational study established in 2001, we identified 293 patients with a prior malignancy from over 14,000 patients with RA. We compared rates of incident malignancy in 177 anti-TNF-treated patients and 117 patients with active RA treated with traditional disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), all with prior malignancy. One patient switched therapy and contributed to both cohorts.

Results: The rates of incident malignancy were 25.3 events/1,000 person-years in the anti-TNF cohort and 38.3/1,000 person-years in the DMARD cohort, generating an age- and sex-adjusted incidence rate ratio of 0.58 (95% confidence interval 0.23-1.43) for the anti-TNF-treated cohort compared with the DMARD cohort. Of the patients with prior melanomas, 3 (18%) of 17 in the anti-TNF cohort developed an incident malignancy, compared with 0 of 10 in the DMARD cohort.

Conclusion: The way in which UK rheumatologists are selecting patients with RA and prior malignancy to receive anti-TNF therapy is not leading to an increased risk of incident malignancy. Although reassuring, these results should not be interpreted as indicating that it is safe to treat all RA patients with prior malignancy with anti-TNF therapy.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Antirheumatic Agents / adverse effects
  • Antirheumatic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / epidemiology*
  • Biological Products / adverse effects
  • Biological Products / therapeutic use
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Registries
  • Rheumatology* / trends
  • Societies, Medical* / trends
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology


  • Antirheumatic Agents
  • Biological Products
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha