Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is a chronic inflammatory condition that causes joint pain and swelling. Most people with PsA also have psoriasis, which causes patches of red, thick, and scaly skin.
There is currently no cure for PsA. Treatment focuses on reducing pain, protecting the joints, and preventing or slowing disease progression.
Some studies have linked PsA to some types of cancer. Other research has found no link. Doctors do not fully understand the connection, so more research is necessary.
Read on to learn more about PsA and cancer risk.
Some research has linked PsA to an increased risk of nonmelanoma skin cancer and breast cancer. Researchers are still trying to understand this possible connection. The condition itself or certain treatments for it may increase cancer risk.
Some treatments for PsA suppress the immune system, so it is less able to detect and destroy cancer cells. The benefits of these drugs usually outweigh the small potential risk of cancer.
One 2014 study found no link between PsA and increased cancer risk. The researchers also concluded that PsA treatments did not affect cancer risk.
A 2019 review of nine studies involving more than 43,000 people with PsA linked some but not all disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) to certain skin cancers. DMARDs are immunosuppressive drugs that doctors prescribe to treat PsA.
The researchers concluded that people taking conventional synthetic DMARDs — such as methotrexate, leflunomide, hydroxychloroquine, and sulfasalazine — were at a higher risk of developing nonmelanoma skin cancer.
Most biologic DMARDs — including infliximab, adalimumab, rituximab, abatacept, rituximab, tocilizumab, and tofacitinib — did not appear to increase cancer risk.
A relatively small 2016 study linked PsA to a greater chance of receiving a diagnosis of any type of cancer. The link was strongest to breast cancer in women.
Our understanding of these links continues to evolve. More research is necessary to understand the potential link between PsA and cancer.
Most people who have PsA also have psoriasis. Researchers have more strongly linked psoriasis to an increased risk of several types of cancer. However, they do not fully understand the connection.
A 2020 review of 112 studies concluded that people with psoriasis were at slightly higher risk of developing nonmelanoma skin cancer and lymphoma. The reviewers also found that PsA and biologic treatments did not appear to increase the risk of cancer.
A 2017 study linked psoriasis but not psoriasis treatments to a higher risk of skin and blood cancers. A 2016 study tied psoriasis to a slightly higher risk of nonmelanoma skin cancer, lymphoma, and lung cancer.
It is not possible to eliminate every risk factor for cancer. People should discuss their individual risk factors and the steps they can take to reduce their chances of developing cancer with their doctor.
The following sections outline some of these steps in more detail.
Skin cancer prevention
Many experts believe that exposure to UV rays is the major risk factor for developing most types of skin cancer. People at increased risk of skin cancer should regularly check their skin for changes and see a dermatologist if they notice any abnormal areas or growths.
The following steps can help reduce a person’s risk of developing skin cancer:
- quitting smoking
- avoiding tanning beds
- staying out of the sun as much as possible
- covering as much skin as possible with clothing and a hat when outdoors
- using sunscreen on exposed skin and reapplying as needed
Lung cancer prevention
There are several steps a person can take to reduce their risk of developing lung cancer, including:
- quitting smoking
- eating a healthful diet
- trying to avoid chronic and repeated exposure to chemicals linked to cancer, such as radon, asbestos, arsenic, and diesel exhaust
Breast cancer prevention
Several lifestyle changes can limit a person’s risk of breast and other types of cancer.
Good nutrition and regular exercise can improve a person’s overall health and help maintain a moderate weight. This may help reduce cancer risk.
Avoiding alcohol and tobacco products also lowers the risk of developing cancer.
People with PsA should attend regular doctor’s appointments and follow their treatment plan. They should also discuss any new or worsening symptoms with their doctor.
It is also important to discuss individual cancer risk with a healthcare provider. Medical professionals tailor treatments to address a person’s unique cancer risk and provide individualized lifestyle recommendations focused on prevention.
Some research has associated PsA and its treatments to an increased risk of cancer, especially breast cancer and nonmelanoma skin cancer. However, other research has found no link.
Studies have also linked psoriasis to nonmelanoma skin cancer, lung cancer, and lymphoma. Research is ongoing to understand the possible connection.
It is important to talk to a doctor about individual risk. Several lifestyle changes can reduce a person’s risk of developing cancer, including limiting exposure to UV rays, reducing alcohol consumption, quitting smoking, eating a healthful diet, and exercising often.