Am I at Risk for Other Diseases if I Have Rheumatoid Arthritis?

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Patients who have an abnormal immune system because their immune system is attacking them. It also is being, what I like to think of it, is distracted against getting rid of other things. So, for instance, you're more likely to have infection because your immune system is distracted taking care of or causing rheumatoid arthritis, and so when we think that the medicines might be causing more infections, it could be that you are allowed to have more infections because you have rheumatoid arthritis. The same is true about cancer. So our immune systems everyday, every moment of every day is doing surveillance, it's looking for cancer cells, everybody makes cancer cells, and they make cancer cells every day and your immune system kills it.

And when your immune misses a cancer cell, or it doesn't recognize it's a cancer cell and it continues to grow, that's when we say somebody has cancer. Well, for instance, in rheumatoid arthritis, even well treated rheumatoid arthritis, the chance of cancer is three times that over the general population. The problem that people sometimes have, is the way that it is reported by the Federal Drug Administration, is that if you take good treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, your chance of having lymphoma, for instance, is three times that of the general population.

What they fail to say, is that if you have severe rheumatoid arthritis and you don't take treatment, your chances are 25 times that over the general population, so unfortunately, just having rheumatoid arthritis increases your chances, and actually, treating the rheumatoid arthritis makes your chances better.

So, infection and cancer are more common in patients with auto-immune disease because their immune system is out of whack.