7 ways arthritis can lead to cancer

It may seem that arthritis and cancer do not have much to do with each other, one of them is a chronic inflammation of the joints and the other an uncontrolled spread of malignant cells. However, emerging research has found that people with arthritis, especially rheumatoid arthritis, are at increased risk for certain types of cancer. Interestingly, the risk appears to be highest in the first few years after diagnosis.

To add a higher level of nuance, the study results reveal that people with RA may actually be less likely to develop certain types of cancer. But when they get these forms of cancer, both the symptoms and the prognosis tend to get worse.

Specifically, the overall risk of breast, gastrointestinal, liver, and colon cancer is lower in people with RA. Unfortunately, the death rate for people with RA and these forms of cancer is significantly higher.

Experts suspect the connection has to do with several factors, including genetics, lifestyle, and use of arthritis medications. Some factors that you can control and others that you cannot. To help you do what you can and not worry about the rest, we’ve looked at 7 ways arthritis can lead to cancer. Several of these paths can be avoided only on personal initiative, but number 6 requires a healthy partner and can be more difficult to conquer.

1. Medications

What do you think of this? It turns out that some medications used to treat rheumatoid arthritis increase the risk of cancer. Similarly, certain medications used to treat cancer can cause arthritis. There are even a couple of medications that are used to treat both conditions!

Some of the drugs in question are NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), drugs for tumor necrosis factor, and corticosteroid injections. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs have been linked to bladder and urinary tract cancers, as well as lymphoma, leukemia, and multiple myeloma. There is some debate about this link, but be sure to check with your doctor about an increased risk of cancer before starting any new arthritis medications.

2. Diet

A high-fat diet is directly related to an unhealthy gut biome. Normally, we harbor a balance of good and bad bacteria in our digestive systems. When bad bacteria are allowed to grow too much, we get sick. When we have a large population of good bacteria, all of our digestion and our use of fuel just works better. Researchers are now discovering that a chronic unhealthy gut biome can lead to both arthritis and cancer.

For a better balance, feed your good bacteria with a variety of probiotic foods. These are things like garlic, onions, bananas, apples, artichokes, and asparagus. They contain a type of resistant starch that is not digested directly by our bodies, but instead feeds the good bacteria and allows it to thrive on the bad.

3. Lifestyle

Dependence on alcohol and / or tobacco are habits that can trigger inflammation, are the main source of pain behind arthritis, and cause cancer. The connection between tobacco use and cancer has long been well known, of course, but it is also a factor in the development and treatment of arthritis. Smoking will damage your joints, connective tissue, and bones as long as you keep doing it. Tobacco also makes the medications used to treat arthritis less effective.

People who regularly consume alcohol are at increased risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, stomach, liver, and colorectal system. Drinking alcohol also makes gout, which is a form of arthritis that involves the formation of hard crystals in the joints, more likely to develop. A good rule of thumb is to consume one glass of alcohol per day for women and two for men.

4. Immune response

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder in which the body mistakenly perceives its own healthy tissue as a dangerous invader. In an attempt at healing, your immune system attacks those tissues. It’s a useful system if the tissue is really dangerous, but when it comes to RA, this is a case of mistaken identity.

With rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system doesn’t stop at the joints, it also attacks the heart, eyes, bones, lungs, and skin. This flawed immune response has been directly linked to skin cancer, but damaged cells in general are also vulnerable to other types of cancer.

5. Reduced activity

When your joints hurt, you may hesitate to move as much as usual. If your arthritis pain leads you to avoid exercise, your cardiovascular health will decline. Weight gain can also occur, which only puts more pressure on the joints and leads to more inflammation. Allowing pain to lead to a sedentary lifestyle opens the door to cancer.

In reality, the longer you are still, the stiffer your joints. Therefore, you should keep moving regularly to limit the impact of an arthritis diagnosis on your overall health.

6. Misdiagnosis

Another possible concern is that your arthritis was misdiagnosed in the first place. Certain cancers, especially those that occur in the bones, can cause joint pain. However, this possibility may be overlooked if you have multiple risk factors for arthritis. Help your doctor diagnose you correctly by keeping a detailed diary of all your symptoms.

You may also need to stand up for yourself if you think the arthritis diagnosis was wrong. Unfortunately, overweight people often receive judgmental care from doctors. Doctors tend to attribute every bodily problem to being overweight without going into depth, but you know yourself better. While obesity is a risk factor for several diseases, it cannot be precisely assumed that it is the cause of everything.

7. Inflammation

Inflammation is generally the source of pain for people with arthritis. It is an immune response that tries to isolate a damaged part of the body from healthy portions.

It can be useful in certain circumstances, such as a localized infection, but it becomes harmful when it is chronic and unnecessary. Over time, chronic inflammation can cause DNA damage and lead to cancer.


If you’ve been diagnosed with arthritis, it’s important to understand that the disease, which has no cure, can be a stepping stone to other, more dangerous conditions. Cancer looks for weak spots in the body, especially cells that have been damaged by chronic inflammation, and takes hold there.

But just because there is no cure does not mean that nothing can be done. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet full of fresh vegetables and fruits can make a huge difference, not only in your comfort level, but also in the health of your digestive system.

Staying active and using an ice and heat regimen can reduce stiffness and pain. Ultimately, you may need a prescription from your doctor for arthritis medication, but using natural remedies first can reduce the amount you need to take.

Arthritis sufferers, sadly, have a higher risk of dying from cancer. But you don’t have to be part of the statistic if you are willing to make some lifestyle changes now.

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