Onset Of RA From Cancer Drugs in the Elderly. 

 October 14, 2023

By  Linda Rook

shoulder pain


Rheumatoid Arthritis or RA is an autoimmune disease that mainly affect the joints, but it can also affect your immune system. The joints can cause pain, inflammation, and is incurable. RA can develop from the old to the young, even your little toddlers. 

Studies have found that there has been growing concern about developing rheumatoid arthritis and the use of certain cancer drugs.

Even though some cancer drugs, like the immune checkpoint inhibitors, have transformed cancer treatment, by destroying the cancer cells. It has also found that it can have a bad impact on your immune system.

In this article, I shall explain the difference between cancer drugs and arthritis sufferers.

Understanding the Basics of Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis mainly attacks your joints that can be painful and can cause inflammation and pain, in the latter years your joints can become deformed.

Rheumatoid arthritis starts with your healthy immune system mistakenly attacking your joint tissues that causes the inflammation and pain.

deformed left fingers due to RA
inflammation of the knee


The symptoms of RA can start slightly but then the progression worsens.  There are different version of the disease and can vary from person to person. 

The common signs usually have an onset of the below.

1.    Joint Pain and Swelling.

2.    Morning Stiffness.

3.    Fatigue.

4.    Joint Redness and Warmth.

5.    Decreased Range of Motion.

6.    Systemic Symptoms.


Research does not know the exact cause of RA but several factors are found to contribute to the onset, they include:

1.    Genetic: You may have a family history.

2.    Environmental Triggers: If you smoke you need to stop immediately.

3.    Immune System Dysfunction: In RA your immune system is attacked, and destroys your tissues.

genes- a history in the family.
MRI scan


If you think you have RA your doctor may examine you that may include:

1.    Medical History.

2.    Physical Examination.

3.    They will take you for a blood tests.

4.    Or an imaging test which means x-ray or CT scan.

5.    Synovial Fluid Analysis.

Understanding the Impact of Cancer Drugs on Arthritis Sufferers.

When you are diagnosed with arthritis, and you are going through cancer treatment, especially immune checkpoint inhibitors, it can result in the autoimmune reaction attacking the body’s tissues, which includes your joints. Therefore the cancer drugs could accidently affect  the arthritis.

Meaning if you already have arthritis then cancer drugs can possibly worsen your joint symptoms.  

Challenges and Considerations.

If you are an arthritis sufferer and undergoing cancer treatment, you should be aware of the following.

1.    Early Detection: You need to talk to your healthcare team if you have any new or worsening joint symptoms.

2.    Specialist Consultation: You could be referred to a rheumatologist, who specialize in autoimmune and inflammatory conditions.

3.    Balancing Benefits and Risks: An arthritis sufferer taking immune checkpoint inhibitors for cancer, should have goals such as finding a balance that controls cancer while managing any adverse reactions on the joints.

doctor and patient

Onset of Rheumatoid Arthritis and Cancer Drugs.

A Surprising Connection.

The connection between cancer drugs and the development of RA in the elderly is surprising and raises several important questions.

  •  What is the exact occurrence of elderly onset RA linked to these drugs,
  • and how many elderly cancer patients may be at risk?
  • how does the timing of the RA onset relate with the initiation of cancer treatment,
  • and what are the specific risk factors that might make certain individuals more susceptible to this side effect?
  • Studies and Research.

    Research into this is still relatively limited, as the link between cancer drugs and elderly onset RA has only recently been noted.

    There were study cases where they found that a patient receiving cancer immunotherapies had rheumatoid arthritis after the treatment.  But further research needs to be done to understand the risks involved.

Elderly Couple

Management and Treatment.

If you are one of the elderly population and needs to manage your RA, but it can have unique challenges.

The treatment for the elderly is similar to younger people and involves a combination of the following:

  • Medication,
  • Physical therapy,
  • Lifestyle adjustments.
  • Dietary changes.
  • And much more…

In the cases of cancer drugs triggering RA, then the clinicians need to collaborate with the rheumatologists the best way to manage RA symptoms.


While there is no cure for RA it is essential for an early detection and management.  The diagnosis and treatment can help control the symptoms and slow the progression of the disease down.

It is just recently that the connection between the onset of RA and cancer in the elderly are an area of medical concern.

Therefore, it underscores the importance of greater awareness and research to understand the mechanisms for managing the side effects.

The elderly patients who develop RA as a result of cancer, a multiple approach is vital.  The team could involve oncologists, rheumatologist, and healthcare providers.

I hope this article has helped you. Please subscribe to my website, and I will keep you updated on new blogs. Also, if you need to know anything about arthritis, please go to my contact page and leave a message, and I will get back to you.

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I am not a medical professional, and this blog is for information only. If you have any worries, you should consult your doctor.

I hope this blog has helped.


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Linda Rook

Linda is now retired and has suffered from Osteoarthritis for about 40+ years.  She struggled with her weight until she found the correct one that also helped with her arthritic pain.  Linda was in terrible pain until the physician thought her right hip needed replacement. 

Now Linda has an artificial right hip, which has left her with the left leg shorter than the right.  Therefore, her spine is now wonky, and has arthritis of the lower back, also it seems to be going all over the body, her pain is now in the knees, elbow, wrist, fingers and both hips.

Linda now spends her days writing information to help others with the same conditions, so they do not suffer like Linda.

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