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Rheumatoid Arthritis and Cancer Risk

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Cancer Risk

Despite being complicated and poorly understood, there is some data that suggests a possible connection between certain types of cancer and arthritis. If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), your chance of developing some malignancies may increase while your risk of developing others may decrease. RA is a chronic autoimmune inflammatory condition that hurts and inflames joints. Although still uncommon, individuals with RA seem to have a higher incidence of lymphoma, lung, and skin cancer. 

Table of Contents

  • The Cancers Linked To Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Reasons Why Arthritis is Associated with Elevated Cancer Risks
  • Practice Problems on the Link Between Rheumatoid Arthritis And Cancer
  • Frequently Asked Questions on the Link Between Rheumatoid Arthritis And Cancer

The Cancers Linked To Rheumatoid Arthritis

Cancer and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are two separate medical disorders that can develop separately. However, research investigations have found certain connections and relationships between RA and particular cancer types.


Numerous studies have revealed that people with RA have an increased risk of lymphoma, particularly non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Although the precise causes of this link are unclear, it is thought that long-term inflammation and several RA medicines, including methotrexate and biologics, may be part of the heightened risk.

Lung Cancer

According to certain studies, people with RA may be somewhat more likely than the overall population to acquire lung cancer. This relationship may be influenced by smoking, which is a known risk factor for both RA and lung cancer.

Skin Cancer

Studies have shown that persons with RA are more likely to develop skin cancer, particularly basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. This may be related to immune system malfunction and chronic immunosuppressive medication use.

Colorectal Cancer

Few studies have suggested a possible association between RA and an elevated risk of colorectal cancer, despite the inconsistent nature of the evidence. This connection may be influenced by chronic inflammation and particular drugs.


Multiple myeloma is a rare form of cancer that affects plasma cells and is expected to be diagnosed in 2023. RA can increase the risk of MGUS, a condition where there is an abnormal protein in the blood, which can progress into multiple myeloma in some patients.


Large granular lymphocyte (LGL) leukaemia, a rare type of blood malignancy, seems to occur more frequently in RA patients. As many as 36% of individuals with LGL leukaemia also had RA, according to one study. Rare is LGL leukaemia. Additionally, it has been linked to autoimmune diseases, including celiac disease.

Prostate Cancer

The disease of the prostate is rather common. After skin cancer, it is the second most prevalent cancer in American men. Cancer develops when cells in the prostate, a gland in the male reproductive system, grow out of control. Among RA patients, there is no clear trend in risk. Prostate cancer seems to be a similar risk for RA patients as it is for the general population.

Reasons Why Arthritis is Associated with Elevated Cancer Risks

Cancer does not always result from arthritis. However, there are a number of factors linked to some forms of arthritis that may raise the risk of acquiring cancer. Here are some explanations as to why arthritis may increase your risk of developing cancer:

Chronic Inflammation

Chronic joint inflammation is a common feature of many types of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and psoriatic arthritis (PsA). Prolonged inflammation can harm cells and interfere with the normal processes of cell growth and repair. This may eventually raise the chance of developing cancer.

Immune System Dysfunction

Immune system dysfunction is a factor in several kinds of arthritis, especially autoimmune arthritis like RA and PsA. Due to the immune system's erroneous attack on the body's own tissues in these scenarios, inflammation and joint injury result. This immunological dysfunction may also impair the body's capacity to identify and eliminate malignant cells, thus promoting the growth of cancer.


Methotrexate and some other biologic drugs, which are used to treat the symptoms of arthritis, have immunosuppressive qualities. While these drugs are helpful in reducing inflammation brought on by arthritis, they may impair the immune system's capacity to detect and destroy cancer cells, perhaps raising the risk of cancer growth.

Shared Risk Factors

Certain risk factors for cancer and arthritis are similar. For instance, smoking is an established risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis and lung cancer. Another common risk factor is obesity, which has been linked to a higher chance of developing several malignancies, including breast, colon, and kidney cancer.

Note: Epidemiological research and observations have shown correlations between arthritis and cancer, while the exact mechanisms behind these associations are still poorly understood.

Practice Problems on The Link Between Rheumatoid Arthritis And Cancer

Q1. Which is the most commonly associated cancer with rheumatoid arthritis?

A. Breast cancer
B. Lymphoma
C. Lung cancer
D. Prostate cancer

Ans: B. Lymphoma

Rheumatoid arthritis has been linked to a higher likelihood of developing lymphoma, a form of blood cancer.

Q2. There is a higher chance of developing lymphoma, which is a type of blood cancer when exposed to?

A. Chronic inflammation
B. Use of pain medications
C. Genetic factors
D. Obesity

Ans: a Chronic inflammation

The increased risk of lymphoma formation in rheumatoid arthritis may be caused by persistent inflammation.

Q3. The primary cause of the association between rheumatoid arthritis and lung cancer is:

A. Shared risk factors, such as smoking
B. Side effects of RA medications
C. Inherited genetic mutations
D. The direct impact of arthritis on lung tissues

Ans: a) Shared risk factors, such as smoking

Rheumatoid arthritis and lung cancer may have shared risk factors, such as smoking, suggesting a possible link.

Q4. Which kind of skin cancer may be more likely to occur in people with rheumatoid arthritis?

A. Melanoma
B. Ovarian cancer
C. Basal cell carcinoma
D. Pancreatic cancer

Ans: C. Basal cell carcinoma

The risk of basal cell carcinoma skin cancer is marginally increased by rheumatoid arthritis.

Q5. The following factors are hypothesised to be responsible for the link between rheumatoid arthritis and colorectal cancer:

A. Increased chronic inflammation
B. Genetic predisposition
C. Use of biological agents
D. Reduced immune function

Ans: A. Increased chronic inflammation

Rheumatoid arthritis's chronic inflammation may raise the risk of colorectal cancer.

Frequently Asked Questions on The Link Between Rheumatoid Arthritis And Cancer

Q1. What does a high rheumatoid factor mean?
A high rheumatoid factor shows the existence of an antibody linked to autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, but more testing is required for a conclusive diagnosis.

Q2. What cancer drug is used for rheumatoid arthritis?
Instead of being a cancer drug, the medication used to treat rheumatoid arthritis belongs to a group of treatments known as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). The goal of DMARDs is to treat the underlying immune system malfunction that underlies rheumatoid arthritis and lessen joint inflammation. Some common DMARDs include leflunomide, methotrexate, sulfasalazine, and hydroxychloroquine.

Q3. Does rheumatoid arthritis result from cancer treatment?
There are instances where a cancer patient receives chemotherapy to treat the illness and subsequently develops a specific kind of inflammatory arthritis. This condition is known as post-chemotherapy rheumatism and might manifest as RA.

Q4. What are the long-term risks of RA?
Men and women are around 1.7% and 3.6% more likely, respectively, to develop rheumatoid arthritis (RA) over their lifetimes.

Q5. Can RA patients expect a long life?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) sufferers can live long, satisfying lives if they receive the right medical care and therapy.

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