Lymphoma in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: association with the disease state or methotrexate treatment

Semin Arthritis Rheum. 1997 Jun;26(6):794-804. doi: 10.1016/s0049-0172(97)80023-6.


Although long-term clinical studies have shown no excessive risk of lymphoma in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients treated with methotrexate (MTX), an increasing number of reports of this association continue to appear. We describe two cases, review the cases in the world's literature, and summarize their important characteristics. Possible oncogenic mechanisms are discussed. Most lymphoproliferation cases presented here have features of immunosuppression-associated lymphoma. The immunosuppressed state is attributable to a combination of factors, such as RA itself and the actions of MTX. The risk factors for RA patients to develop lymphoma while on MTX include severe disease, intense immunosuppression, genetic predisposition, and an increased frequency of latent infection with prooncogenic viruses such as Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). The spontaneous remission of lymphomas in eight RA patients after MTX was stopped highlights the likely causative role of the drug in the development of these malignancies. If the clinical situation permits, a period of observation for spontaneous remission after MTX is stopped is advisable. The physicians caring for RA patients on MTX should maintain a high surveillance for signs and symptoms suggestive of lymphoma.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Antirheumatic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Antirheumatic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / complications
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin / chemically induced*
  • Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin / complications
  • Methotrexate / adverse effects*
  • Methotrexate / therapeutic use
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors


  • Antirheumatic Agents
  • Methotrexate