Rheumatoid Arthritis: Risks and Benefits of Chemotherapy Treatments

Published Jan 14, 2019

Rheumatoid Arthritis: Risks and Benefits of Chemotherapy Treatments

Chemotherapy is most often associated with cancer treatment, but it is also used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder in which your own body mounts an immune attack on your joints. 

chemotherapy hospital

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, this immune response causes inflammation and pain in the joints, particularly in the hands and feet. It can also affect the heart and lungs. 
The chemotherapy drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis are called disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs. Pain medications like ibuprofen or naproxen patients use to relieve pain and inflammation only treat the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, but DMARDs treat the underlying cause of rheumatoid arthritis by changing the body’s immune response so it will stop attacking the joints, explains Healthgrades. 
While chemotherapy is effective for rheumatoid arthritis, symptom relief can take months, and there are many potential side effects. Your physician will monitor your progress and occasionally take a blood sample. You may need to try a few different drugs before finding the best one. 
The most common chemotherapy drug used in rheumatoid arthritis treatment is methotrexate
According to Drugs.com, methotrexate can produce a long list of side effects. Some of the the minor side effects include:
* temporary hair loss
* decreased appetite
* nausea and vomiting
* skin rashes
* acne
More severe side effects warrant an immediate consultation with your physician. These severe side effects include, but are not limited to:
* bloody vomit and stool
* joint pain
* mouth sores
* stomach pain
* diarrhea
* swelling in the legs
* blurred vision
* dizziness
* fever and chills
* shortness of breath
* convulsions
Two other drugs, Imuran and Cytoxin, are less commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, says WebMD. These drugs can produce more severe, life-threatening side effects than methotrexate. 
The American College of Rheumatology recommends that all patients diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis be treated early with chemotherapy because early treatment slows down the damage to joints. People who start treatment early are more likely to keep joints functioning for a longer period of time. 
Have you tried chemotherapy for your RA? How did you find it?


Unregistered member
on 1/24/19

I m on Methatroxate since last 3 years but I don't feel any improvement rather I can say that it's flaring up I took leflenomide*20 mg daily also

Unregistered member
on 1/30/19

I take a very low does of methotrexate once a week along with my remicade infusion every 6 weeks. I was first only on remicade but starting coming up with a very itchy unexplainable rash that didnt get better or worse after an infusion. With the work of my amazing "rheumy" we thought it was my arthritis trying to cause an inflammatory response somewhere else in my body (ie my skin). So I started methotrexate and the rash cleared right up! I was leary about trying it after reading about it but my sanity and not itching won this one!

on 1/31/19

Wow everyone seems to have had bad experiences. Thank you for the helpful comments everyone.

So @Vettech07‍ you feel it is helping you though?

Unregistered member
on 2/1/19

@rtr097u1‍ it's hard to say because I also get Remicade infusions. It did stop my itchy rash and i dont have any nasty side effects from it. So it's not all bad but I dont think it would completely control my symptoms on it's own. I'm also not comfortable with taking a bigger dose as chances for side effects can go up.

on 2/28/19

Good morning, 

  I am on my third week of methotrexate and just took my third shot a few hrs ago . I dont believe it yet set in but I for sure have been tired , dizzy & fell sick sometimes . I really do not want to take it but Blu Cross will not let you take Embrel unless nothing else works. At this point I just dont want the RA to spread to my heart or lungs considering it hit me hard several months ago when I woke up with it one day. I am wondering if Embrel would even be any better. 

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