Objective: To determine the incidence of and risk factors for non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) in a national cohort of veterans with RA.
Methods: We examined skin cancer risk in a cohort of 20 648 patients with RA derived from the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) national administrative databases. The cohort was divided into two medication groups: patients treated with non-biologic and TNF-α antagonist DMARDs. We defined skin cancer as the first occurrence of an International Classification of Disease, Version 9, Clinical Modification (ICD-9-CM) code for NMSC after initiation of a DMARD. Outcome risk was described using hazard ratios (HRs) with Cox proportional hazards regression for time-to-event analysis and logistic regression. We performed medical record review to validate the diagnosis of NMSC.
Results: Incidence of NMSC was 18.9 and 12.7 per 1000 patient-years in patients on TNF-α antagonists and non-biologic DMARDs, respectively. Patients on TNF-α antagonists had a higher risk of developing NMSC (HR 1.42; 95% CI 1.24, 1.63). Risk factors for NMSC included older age, male gender, NSAID and glucocorticoid use and a history of prior malignancies. There was substantial agreement between ICD-9-CM diagnosis of NMSC and medical record validation (κ = 0.61).
Conclusion: TNF-α antagonist therapy in veterans with RA may be associated with an increased risk of NMSC, compared with therapy with non-biologic DMARDs. Rheumatologists should carefully screen patients receiving TNF-α antagonists for pre-cancerous skin lesions and skin cancer.