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, 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 link 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.

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Some research has linked PsA to an increased risk of several types of cancer. Additionally, most people who have PsA also have psoriasis. Researchers have more strongly linked psoriasis to an increased risk of several cancers.

Researchers are still studying the potential link between PsA and cancer. This is what is known so far.

Overall cancer risk

One 2014 study found no link between PsA and increased cancer risk. A relatively small 2016 study links PsA to a greater chance of receiving a diagnosis of any cancer. More recent results from a 2020 review found that there is no increased risk of cancer overall in people with PsA.

Researchers are still trying to understand this possible connection. The link may also vary depending on cancer type.

Breast cancer

In the 2016 study, the link between PsA and increased cancer risk was strongest with breast cancer. Findings from the 2020 review also noted a significant association between PsA and increased breast cancer risk.

However, there are many factors outside of PsA, including hormones and environmental factors, that link with breast cancer.

Nonmelanoma skin cancer

A 2020 review concludes that people with psoriasis are at a slightly higher risk of developing nonmelanoma skin cancer and lymphoma.

A 2017 study links psoriasis to a higher risk of skin cancer. A 2016 study ties psoriasis to a slightly higher risk of nonmelanoma skin cancer.

Some research also links PsA to an increased risk of nonmelanoma skin cancer. This may be due to PsA itself, the presence of psoriasis, and treatment options, such as phototherapy or immune-suppressing drugs.

Other cancer types

A 2017 study ties psoriasis to an increased risk of blood cancers. Additionally, a 2016 study links psoriasis to a slightly higher risk of lymphoma and lung cancer.

One thing to remember is that there is a link between lymphoma and many autoimmune disorders, regardless of how doctors treat the condition.

The role of PsA treatments

Doctors often use drugs that suppress the immune system, which leaves the body less able to detect and destroy cancer cells, to treat PsA. This includes:

  • disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
  • biologic drugs
  • Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors

A 2019 review links some, but not all, DMARDs to certain skin cancers. The researchers conclude that people taking conventional, synthetic DMARDs — such as methotrexate, leflunomide, hydroxychloroquine, and sulfasalazine — were at a higher risk of developing nonmelanoma skin cancer.

However, most biologic drugs — including infliximab, adalimumab, rituximab, abatacept, rituximab, and tocilizumab — did not appear to increase people’s cancer risk.

Newer drugs, known as JAK inhibitors — including tofacitinib and upadacitinib — come with a black box warning that includes a notice about an increased risk of cancer.

Regardless, the benefits of each of these drugs often outweigh the small potential risk of cancer.

Our understanding of these links between PsA and cancer continues to evolve. More research is necessary to understand the potential link between PsA and 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 a 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 with an 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 UV protective 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
  • paying attention to air quality and air pollution
  • 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 them maintain a moderate weight. This may help reduce their cancer risk.

Avoiding alcohol and tobacco products also lowers a person’s 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 a doctor.

General signs and symptoms of cancer may include:

  • persistent fatigue
  • unexplained weight loss or weight gain
  • a suppressed appetite
  • nausea and vomiting
  • unexplained persistent, or worsening, pain
  • swelling or lumps that appear anywhere on the body
  • skin changes
  • a persistent cough or hoarseness
  • unusual or unexplained bleeding or bruising
  • changes in bladder or bowel habits
  • sores, bleeding, pain, or numbness in the mouth
  • vision changes
  • hearing problems

Other symptoms may pop up depending on the cancer type.

It is important to discuss individual cancer risks 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 associates psoriatic arthritis and its treatments with an increased risk of cancer, especially breast cancer and nonmelanoma skin cancer. However, other research has found no link.

Studies also link psoriasis to nonmelanoma skin cancer, lung cancer, and lymphoma. Research is ongoing to understand the possible connection.

It is important to talk with 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.