Tumor necrosis factor inhibition and head and neck cancer recurrence and death in rheumatoid arthritis

Christopher Phillips, Angelique L. Zeringue, Jay R. McDonald, Seth A. Eisen, Prabha Ranganathan

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20 Scopus citations


The objective of this retrospective cohort study was to determine the effect of tumor necrosis factor inhibitor (TNFi) therapy on the risk of head and neck cancer (HNC) recurrence or HNC-attributable death in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA patients with HNC were assembled from the US national Veterans' Affairs (VA) administrative databases, and diagnoses confirmed and data collected by electronic medical record review. The cohort was divided into those treated with non-biologic disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (nbDMARDs) versus TNF inhibitors (TNFi) after a diagnosis of HNC. Likelihood of a composite endpoint of recurrence or HNC-attributable death was determined by Cox proportional hazards regression. Of 180 patients with RA and HNC, 31 were treated with TNFi and 149 with nbDMARDs after the diagnosis of HNC. Recurrence or HNC-attributable death occurred in 5/31 (16.1%) patients in the TNFi group and 44/149 (29.5%) patients in the nbDMARD group (p = 0.17); it occurred in 2/16 (13%) patients who received TNFi in the year prior to HNC diagnosis but not after. Overall stage at diagnosis (p = 0.03) and stage 4 HNC (HR 2.49 [CI 1.06-5.89]; p = 0.04) were risk factors for recurrence or HNC-attributable death; treatment with radiation or surgery was associated with a lower risk (HR 0.35 [CI 0.17-0.74]; p = 0.01 and HR 0.39 [CI 0.20-0.76]; p = 0.01 respectively). Treatment with TNFi was not a risk factor for recurrence or HNC-attributable death (HR 0.75; CI 0.31-1.85; p = 0.54). We conclude that treatment with TNFi may be safe in patients with RA and HNC, especially as the time interval between HNC treatment and non-recurrence increases. In this study, TNF inhibition was not associated with an increase in recurrence or HNC-attributable death.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0143286
JournalPloS one
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015


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