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Research briefs

Network - Fall 2012

Therapies for rheumatoid arthritis don't increase cancer risk

Biologic therapies developed for patients with rheumatoid arthritis during the last decade have caused concern about possible links to cancer. However, results from the largest systematic review of these drugs — including 29,423 adult patients from 63 randomized, controlled trials — showed no statistically significant increased risk of any type of cancer in patients treated with these biologic response modifiers (BRMs), compared to other medications.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects approximately 1% of the population and can lead to significant morbidity, joint deformity and impaired quality of life.

Researchers compared the safety of all nine BRMs currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration against a placebo or traditional disease-modifying, anti-rheumatic drug.

They worked with the Cochrane Collaboration, an independent, non-profit organization that houses the largest collection of records of randomized, controlled trials in the world.

Senior author: Maria Suarez-Almazor, M.D., Ph.D., professor in the Department of General Internal Medicine. Reported in the Sept. 5, 2012, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Predictive value of circulating tumor cells

Circulating tumor cells — established in metastatic breast cancer for predicting a woman’s chance of recurrence and survival — have now shown similar value in early stage breast cancer. As one of the first studies and the largest to show this new predictive value, its findings may help determine which earlier stage breast cancer patients need additional treatment and intervention in the adjuvant setting.

Lead author and principal investigator: Anthony Lucci, M.D., professor in
MD Anderson’s Department of Surgical Oncology. Reported in the July 2012 edition of Lancet Oncology.

Genetic change caused by sun damage

It’s been a burning question in melanoma research: Tumor cells are full of ultraviolet (UV)-induced genetic damage caused by sunlight exposure, but which mutations drive this cancer? The sheer abundance of these passenger mutations has obscured the search for genetic driver mutations that actually matter in melanoma development and progression. Researchers, however, have now identified six genes with driving mutations in melanoma, three of which have recurrent “hotspot” mutations as a result of damage inflicted by UV light.

Co-senior author: Lynda Chin, M.D., professor and chair of MD Anderson’s Department of Genomic Medicine; in collaboration with scientists at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Reported in the July 20, 2012, issue of the journal Cell.

Clinical tool indicates radiation benefit

A new nomogram, or clinical model, demonstrates accuracy in predicting the benefit of radiation therapy in older women — ages 66-79 — with breast cancer. The study may offer clinical guidance to physicians, so they can help determine which patients in this age group will likely benefit from radiation therapy. As the U.S. population ages, it is critical to establish indications for radiation therapy. A 57% increase in breast cancer diagnoses in older women is projected during the next two decades.

Lead author: Benjamin Smith, M.D., assistant professor in MD Anderson’s Department of Radiation Oncology. Reported in the Aug. 10, 2012, edition of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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