New research reveals that rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients do not receive fewer cancer screening tests than the general population. Results of the study, funded in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and published in Arthritis & Rheumatism, a journal of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR), found that RA and non-RA patients receive routine screening for breast, cervical, and colon cancer at similar rates.
The ACR estimates that 1.3 million adult Americans are affected by RA—a chronic autoimmune disease characterized by systemic inflammation of the joints that over time may damage joints, impair daily function, and cause significant disability. Medical evidence confirms that despite early and aggressive treatment, RA patients have a decreased life expectancy compared to the general population. Previous research reports that cancer is one of the main causes of death for RA patients and patients with chronic disease may not receive preventive medical services including regular screenings for cancer.
“Early detection of common cancers can improve morbidity and mortality rates in those with chronic illnesses, such as RA,” said Dr. Seoyoung C. Kim with the Division of Rheumatology and Division of Pharmacoepidemiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Mass. “Cancer screening tests are important in detecting malignancies at early stages for both chronically ill and healthy populations.”
To further understand barriers to preventative medical care and raise awareness of the importance of early cancer screenings, Dr. Kim and colleagues examined screening rates for breast, cervical and colon cancer in RA patient compared to those without the disease. Using claims data from a major insurance provider, the team identified 13,314 patients with RA patients and 212,324 non-RA patients.
Analysis shows that on average both RA and non-RA groups were screened once every three years for cervical cancer and every two years for breast cancer. Among all participants 50 years and older, 12% of RA patients and 10% of non-RA patients had at least one colonoscopy each year. Women with RA were more likely to have an annual Pap smear, mammogram, fecal occult blood (FOB) test and colonoscopy than those without RA. Male RA patients were also more likely to have a colonoscopy compared to than those without RA.
“Our findings indicate that RA patients were regularly screened for cervical, breast and colon cancer as recommended by the American Cancer Society,” concludes Dr. Kim. “Cancer screenings rates among patients with RA were similar to the general population, which is different than previously published results. However, these earlier studies did not compare rates of cancer screenings in RA patients with a non-RA group.” The authors suggest that patients and physicians be aware of the importance of preventive healthcare in patients with chronic diseases such as RA. They caution that results of this should not be generalized to those without medical insurance.