Skip to content

Arthritis drugs increase cancer risk in children

Know a child or teen with rheumatoid arthritis? Read this NOW

After an investigation that began in June 2008, the FDA is adding new warnings to a crop of best-selling arthritis drugs—that they increase the risk of cancer in children and adolescents.

In her teen years, one of my closest friends struggled daily with the pain of rheumatoid arthritis. She’s since gotten it under control naturally, and has been able to ditch most of the mainstream medications her doctor had her on.

But as soon as I saw the latest news from the FDA, I knew she had to know about it. She’s on vacation, away from her computer, so I sent her a text message asking “Were you ever on TNF blockers for your arthritis?”

Because the FDA has just released a new warning that these drugs increase the risk of CANCER in children and adolescents, on average after 30 months of treatment.

About half of the cancers were lymphomas, which involve cells of the immune system. The media is reporting that “some” of the cancers were fatal.

Hold on a second there—out of the 48 reported cases the FDA looked at in their analysis, 11 were fatal. That’s nearly 23% of the cases—not a percentage I’d casually brush off as “some.”

No. In fact, it’s a percentage that sends chills down my spine. One that makes me wonder why these drugs aren’t being pulled NOW.

Of course, rather than recall these dangerous drugs, the FDA is instead pumping up the warnings included on prescribing information. These drugs already carry the strongest warnings possible about risk of serious infection. So they’ll just add the cancer warning to the “black box” and call it a day.

They’re also asking the makers of the drugs to provide information about all cases of cancer reported in children on TNF blockers. They want to work with the manufacturers to “further define the scope of the cancer risk.”

Mind you, some of this exploration, it’s reported, will take about TEN YEARS.

Ten years to “define the scope.” How many children will be sacrificed in this quest? The risk is there, it’s been defined—that should be enough. How many children will end up with cancer in those 10 years, as these drug companies make a futile effort to prove their drugs are safe?

Here are the drugs to look out for—the TNF blockers that are approved for use in children are Remicade (infliximab), Enbrel (etancercept), and Humira (adalimumab). They’re all multibillion-dollar sellers. Enbrel alone pulled in $3.4 billion last year. Starting to see why they’re going for a stronger warning instead of pulling the drugs?

Incidentally, when I heard back from my friend, she told me she’d (thankfully) never been put on TNF blockers. But her mom had been on them—and they landed her in the hospital for three months.

Sources:
“FDA: Cancer Warnings Required for TNF Blockers,” FDA (www.fda.gov).
“Early Communication About an Ongoing Safety Review of Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) Blockers (marketed as Remicade, Enbrel, Humira, and Cimzia),” FDA (www.fda.gov).
“Arthritis drugs raise cancer risk in kids: FDA,” Yahoo News (news.yahoo.com).