It may not seem like arthritis and cancer have much to do with each other, one being a chronic inflammation of the joints and the other an unchecked spread of malignant cells. However, emerging research has found that people with arthritis, especially rheumatoid arthritis, are at a greater risk for certain types of cancer. Interestingly, the risk seems to be highest within the first few years after diagnosis.
To add a greater level of nuance, study results reveal that people with RA may actually be less likely to develop certain types of cancer. But when they do get those forms of cancer, both the symptoms and the prognosis tend to be worse.
Specifically, the overall risk for breast, gastrointestinal, liver, and colon cancers is lower in people with RA. Unfortunately, the death rate for people with RA and these forms of cancer is significantly higher.
Experts suspect that the connection has to do with several factors, including genetics, lifestyle, and use of medications for arthritis. Some factors you can control and others you can’t. To help you do what you can and not worry about the rest, we have broken down 7 ways that arthritis may lead to cancer. Several of these paths can be avoided purely by personal initiative, but #6 requires a partner in health and may be tougher to conquer.
How’s this for a kick in the teeth? It turns out that some medications used to treat rheumatoid arthritis increase your cancer risk. Similarly, certain meds used to treat cancer can cause arthritis. There are even a couple of drugs that are used to treat both conditions!
Some of the drugs in question are NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories), Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) meds, and corticosteroid injections. DMARDs (disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs) have been linked to cancers of the bladder and urinary tract, as well as lymphoma, leukemia, and multiple myeloma. There is some debate about this link, but be sure to ask your doctor about an increased cancer risk before starting any new arthritis medication.
A high fat diet is linked directly to an unhealthy gut biome. Normally, we harbor a balance of good and bad bacteria in our digestive systems. When the bad bacteria are allowed to proliferate too much, we get sick. When we have a strong population of good bacteria, everything about our digestion and use of fuel just works better. Researchers are now discovering that a chronically unhealthy gut biome can incite both arthritis and cancer.
To achieve a better balance, feed your good bacteria on a variety of prebiotic foods. These are things like garlic, onions, bananas, apples, artichokes, and asparagus. They contain a type of resistant starch that is not directly digested by our bodies but instead feeds good bacteria and allows it to thrive over the bad stuff.
4. Immune Response
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder in which the body mistakenly perceives its own healthy tissue as a dangerous invader. In an attempt at healing, your immune system attacks those tissues. It is a useful system if the tissue really is dangerous, but when it comes to RA, this is a case of mistaken identity.
With rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system doesn’t stop at the joints but also attacks the heart, eyes, bones, lungs, and skin. This erroneous immune response has been directly linked to skin cancer, but damaged cells in general are also vulnerable to other types of cancer.
Another potential worry is that your arthritis was misdiagnosed in the first place. Certain cancers, especially those that occur in the bones, can cause joint pain. However, this possibility may be overlooked if you have multiple risk factors for arthritis. Help your doctor diagnose you correctly by keeping a detailed journal of all your symptoms.
You may also need to advocate strongly for yourself if you feel that an arthritis diagnosis was incorrect. Unfortunately, overweight people often get biased care from medical professionals. Doctors tend to attribute every bodily issue to weight without digging deeper, but you know yourself best. While obesity is a risk factor for various diseases, it cannot accurately be assumed to cause anything and everything.