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Highly Accessed Open Badges Review

Treating rheumatic patients with a malignancy

Katarzyna Elandt1 and Daniel Aletaha2*

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Oncology, Department of Internal Medicine 1, Medical University Vienna, Austria

2 Division of Rheumatology, Department of Internal Medicine 3, Medical University Vienna, Waehringer Guertel 18-20, 1090 Vienna, Austria

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2011, 13:223  doi:10.1186/ar3352

Published: 29 June 2011


Management of patients with inflammatory rheumatic disease and a history of (or even a current) malignant disease poses some particular challenges. As direct evidence of the risk of (recurrent or de novo) malignancy in patients with a history of malignant disease is scarce, such a risk may be estimated indirectly from the principal carcinogenicity of the respective drug to be used or (also indirectly) from cancer reactivation data from the transplant literature. In general, cancer risk is increased in patients receiving combination immunosuppressive treatment, but the risk in patients receiving individual drugs (with the exception of alkylating agents) remains entirely unclear. Indirect evidence supports the intuitive concept that the risk of cancer decreases over time after a successful cancer treatment. The only two studies in rheumatic patients with a cancer history were small and have not been able to show an increase in cancer reactivation. The risk of reactivation also depends on the site and location of the prior malignancy. In conclusion, the decision to treat a patient with a history of cancer immunosuppressively should be shared by the rheumatologist and the oncologist. Once the decision is established, such patients need intensive and close monitoring.