New research, presented June 13 at the Annual European Congress of Rheumatology in Amsterdam, found no difference in rates of cancer — excluding non-melanoma skin cancer — between rheumatoid arthritis patients who switched to the biologic tocilizumab and those who began taking a tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitor.

“Our study is one of a few to investigate head-to-head comparisons of malignancy risk
between different types of biologics in RA,” said study author Seoyoung Kim, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, in a news release. “This study found no difference in the risk of malignancy, excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, in patients with RA who newly switched to TCZ versus TNFi from a different TNFi, abatacept or tofacitinib.”

According to the release, prior research has demonstrated that RA patients are at a higher risk of certain cancers, and that risk is thought to stem from immune system impairment and chronic inflammation. There have been concerns about whether new biologic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDS), in their specific targeting of parts of the immune system, could cause cancer, the release adds.

The researchers studied 10,393 adult patients who had recently started tocilizumab after failure of abatacept, tofacitinib, or another TNFi and 26,357 patients who started a different TNF inhibitor after failing on either abatacept, tofacitinib, or another TNFi. Per 100 patient years, the researchers found cancer rates between .83 and 2.32 in the first (tocilizumab) group, and rates between .96 and 2.15 in the second group (which started on a TNFi).

“Statistical analysis revealed no significant differences between the groups,” the release states. “In addition, there were no significant differences in the incidence of the 10 most frequently occurring cancers and leukaemia or human papilloma virus-related cancer which were analyzed as individual secondary endpoints.”