Cancer Drugs Yervoy and Opdivo May Increase Risk of Arthritis: Study

Researchers from Johns Hopkins report that some cancer immunotherapy drugs, such as Yervoy and Opdivo, could increase the risk of arthritis among some patients. 

According to a case report published in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases on June 15, a class of cancer drugs known as Immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) appear to be connected to immune-related adverse events, which may manifest as inflammatory arthritis and sicca syndrome.

Johns Hopkins researchers reported on patients evaluated in the Baltimore-based medical center’s Rheumatology clinics from 2012 to 2016, who had new symptoms of arthritis after taking Yervoy or Opdivo for the treatment of solid tumors.

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At least 13 patients were identified who received ICIs and developed arthritis, nine of which were diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis, four with synovitis, and four with inflammatory synovial fluid. All of the patients were treated with corticosteroids.

Only about 1.3% of patients who take the drugs appear to suffer these effects, but the use of the drugs is spreading, researchers indicated. However, they noted that if future studies confirm a connection between the drugs and an increased risk of arthritis, their numbers will likely be seen as an underestimation.

“We keep having referrals coming in from our oncologists as more patients are treated with these drugs,” Dr. Clifton Bingham, associate professor of medicine and director of Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center, said in a June 23 press release. “In particular, as more patients are treated with combinations of multiple immunotherapies, we expect the rate to go up.”

Other types of immune responses have been linked to the drugs, which strengthens the chances that the drugs can cause arthritis as well, the researchers noted. During the original clinical trials for Yervoy and Opdivo, increased risks were detected for inflammatory bowel diseases, lung inflammation, and other side effects that are considered immune-related.

The researchers raised concerns that the effects seem to be getting more severe in patients as time goes on.

“In 2015, our rheumatology clinic started getting more and more referrals from our oncology department to evaluate patients treated with immunotherapies,” study author, Dr. Laura C. Cappelli, said. “And the patients we saw had very severe, highly inflammatory arthritis. They needed even higher doses of steroids to control their symptoms compared to what is needed in other forms of inflammatory arthritis, like rheumatoid arthritis.”

12 Comments

  • AlexandraFebruary 13, 2021 at 3:45 am

    I trusted this new treatment as preventative treatment to a diagnosis of metastatic melanoma. My partner had it for a year one infusion every two weeks. Only mild side effects of rash and some tiredness whilst on it. Iron levels low as well. Three months after finishing treatment he developed stange side effects which have been confirmed to be consistent with post side effects to treatment. H[Show More]I trusted this new treatment as preventative treatment to a diagnosis of metastatic melanoma. My partner had it for a year one infusion every two weeks. Only mild side effects of rash and some tiredness whilst on it. Iron levels low as well. Three months after finishing treatment he developed stange side effects which have been confirmed to be consistent with post side effects to treatment. He was healthy 54 year old now he is like an old man. He has no longer any libido needs to take enzymes for his pancreas as it is not producing enzymes to digest his food and his pituitary is also affected not sure how badly. Thyroid has lumps on it that lit up in last PET scan so not sure if cancer has now returned. He also had a sever attack of reactive arthrisitis and is managed now of methyltrexae smallest dose possible and we have spent tonns of money on natural treatments to help him get as well as possible. He is looking like ending his career in the mines soon as he is chronically fatigued and still trying to cope with the aftermath of this treatment and other unknown side effects. Would I have chosen this treatment if I knew of this data of course not. My husband it appears has been a guinea pig for this drug company. This treatment was free and a very lovely university lady asked if we could sign a document if he died post in a few years to see how this drug has helped or not helped prevent cancer down the track. I shudder at allowing my husband to do this but at the time we felt this was the right option as natural cures are not allowed in Australia or they are frowned apon and many things that work are prohiibited like most courntries. To get his inflammation markers down we take at least 7 different things and to help his body be as healthy as possible. He is working 12 hr days away at the moment but not sure if he can continue with this grueling regime. We are looking at changing our lifestyle dramatically to transiton to early retirement now. So that he can enjoy his life as he is now so frail. I asked the Oncologist in Australia to ensure his side effects are charted. Unsure if she has listed what has happended in detail. Can you help?

  • StevenOctober 23, 2019 at 4:04 pm

    My wife has been battling RCC for almost 4 years. After trying the 1st & 2nd treatments we tried Opdivo, suggested to us by oncologist at CTCA. After 3 months her thyroid stopped working, now taking a synthroid, then at about 5 months, she wound up in ER. Blood sugar over 650. Opdivo has destroyed her pancreas, now a type 1 diabetic. 2 weeks later back in the hospital for severe arthritis and infl[Show More]My wife has been battling RCC for almost 4 years. After trying the 1st & 2nd treatments we tried Opdivo, suggested to us by oncologist at CTCA. After 3 months her thyroid stopped working, now taking a synthroid, then at about 5 months, she wound up in ER. Blood sugar over 650. Opdivo has destroyed her pancreas, now a type 1 diabetic. 2 weeks later back in the hospital for severe arthritis and inflammation all caused by the immunotherapy Opdivo. We are not taking any cancer drugs anymore because we're dealing with all the side effects of the Opdivo. Is there any legal action that can be taken? I see class action lawsuits against BristMeyer for false research, but that is only for people who bought securities in the company. How about those who took Opdivo and had major side effects? Lost all trust in drug manufacturers. This is all documented at hospital and confirmed cause. Can anyone help?

  • MikeJanuary 23, 2019 at 5:25 am

    In May 2017 I was diagnosed with Stage III Melanoma on my back. Sentinel lymph node biopsy in left arm pit found one node positive for Melanoma. After suffering from a severe staph infection more than two months after the surgeries, two hospitalizations for more than 2 weeks with another 2 weeks of daily ambulatory IV antibiotic infusions. Then, nearly 4 months to the day I was first diagnosed wi[Show More]In May 2017 I was diagnosed with Stage III Melanoma on my back. Sentinel lymph node biopsy in left arm pit found one node positive for Melanoma. After suffering from a severe staph infection more than two months after the surgeries, two hospitalizations for more than 2 weeks with another 2 weeks of daily ambulatory IV antibiotic infusions. Then, nearly 4 months to the day I was first diagnosed with Melanoma, I took my first of 4 Immunotherapy treatments of Yervoy. I was convinced to be part of a clinical trial study, SWOG 1404, high-dose ipilimumab 10 mg/kg. The first treatment went well with no side effects. The second treatment was 3 weeks later. Less than a week after the second treatment I was severally dehydrated, to the point I had to take off work, and 2 weeks after the treatment I was hospitalized for 3 days, diagnosed with double pneumonia. 2 weeks after being released, mid-October, I was convinced to proceed with the 3rd treatment, to be within compliance of the case study requirements. 5 days later I broke out with a severe rash over more than 90% of my body. All but my face and top of my head. All the doctors and nurses said they had never seen a rash so bad. Steroids were administered. Once the steroids were finished and the rash cleared up then I developed severe diarrhea and dehydration. In and out of the Oncology clinic almost every day. By mid to late November, I was feeling better and continued with the 4th and last treatment the end of November. Within less than a week I was hospitalized again due to shortness of breath. Preliminary diagnosis was pneumococcal pneumonia but after a lung biopsy, I was diagnosed with Dyspnea and Interstitial lung disease or in lay-man’s term, lung toxicity from the Yervoy. Sent home on heavy dosage of Prednisone steroid and home oxygen 24/7 until Christmas. Still on oxygen at night when I sleep. Started 2018 cancer free and thinking the worse was behind me, having been disqualified from the clinical trial study due to the severe side effects and no future maintenance treatments planned. But only 2 weeks into the New Year, I was back in the hospital with severe dehydration due to diarrhea with an emergency colonoscopy, suspecting a GI condition (Colitis). Also started having issues with my vision, double vision that I still have today and are still being treated for, having multiple eye surgeries. From the middle of January 2018 to mid-March, I have been in and out of the hospital multiple times with intestinal bleeding issues, with the last bleed requiring 3 units of blood to bring me back. Plus being on the steroid Prednisone for my lungs until the end of July, nearly 6 months, which didn't do me any good other than the lungs. Bottom line, to this long drawn out drama, is this drug did its job to take care of the cancer as of now, but it nearly killed me, more than once. When they rattle off all the "possible" side effects with this drug, Yervoy, Opdivo, Keytruda, or any other drug, on a television commercial, pay attention because they are real. Using this drug for treatment of my Melanoma, I have been off work for more than 5 months, expired all 12 weeks of FMLA and then some, in both 2017 and 2018, 12 weeks each year. Even after more than a year since my last immunotherapy treatment. If I knew then what I know now and would have been given the truth about ALL the possible side effects, I would not have done it. :(

  • MikeJanuary 8, 2019 at 5:26 am

    Was treated with opdivo and yervoy for stage 4 melanoma. The drugs have kept my cancer in check but have caused many serious side effects including heart damage and inflammatory arthritis.

  • AngelaAugust 8, 2017 at 6:49 pm

    I took Opdivo and it first attacked my thyroid . Then pancreas function has stopped . I am now a type 1 diabetic. Isulin dependent. I'm still on chemo for multiple myeloma..... but this drug almost killed me with a blood glucose level over 1399

  • JohnJuly 12, 2017 at 11:10 pm

    I was diagnosed with Spindle Cell Melanoma Stage 3b in January 2017. I was givenYervoy in March after having a neck dissection in February (only one node had cancer). Have suffered with Colitis ever since and have had numerous hospitalizations. Treatment includes high dose steroids and Remicade infusions every two weeks. My legs feel like noodles and it is very painful and hard to get around. Thi[Show More]I was diagnosed with Spindle Cell Melanoma Stage 3b in January 2017. I was givenYervoy in March after having a neck dissection in February (only one node had cancer). Have suffered with Colitis ever since and have had numerous hospitalizations. Treatment includes high dose steroids and Remicade infusions every two weeks. My legs feel like noodles and it is very painful and hard to get around. This drug is bad news! Do Not Take It!

  • DeeJune 25, 2017 at 8:46 pm

    I was given optivo. And was not told of the side effects. I scanned clear. But now I'm fighting a server case of chron's and have been in the house ever since. Plus arthritis in both knees and hands. If I knew them what I know now I never would have used optivo

  • GilMay 7, 2017 at 5:54 pm

    I was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic melanoma. I was given Opdivo & Yervoy. Broke out in rash that covered 85% of my body. Oncologist admitted he's seen patients gat cancer from these drugs! Wonderful news! Dermatologist said it was the worse rash she had ever seen. This crap is poison!!! Warning: DO NOT USE IT!!! There's something better and safer they won't tell you about. I used it and rec[Show More]I was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic melanoma. I was given Opdivo & Yervoy. Broke out in rash that covered 85% of my body. Oncologist admitted he's seen patients gat cancer from these drugs! Wonderful news! Dermatologist said it was the worse rash she had ever seen. This crap is poison!!! Warning: DO NOT USE IT!!! There's something better and safer they won't tell you about. I used it and recovered from the debilitating side effects.

  • kendallApril 18, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    I have metsatatic melanoma and have been treated with opdivo and yervoy and now have painful arthritis in my thumbs, wrists and neck.

  • RebeccaApril 7, 2017 at 11:03 pm

    My step father had adrenal gland cancer and was declared cancer free in march 2016 and April 20, 2016 he died. His doctor said he should take opdivo treatments to "build his immune system" My 56 year old cousin died 6-1-2016 40 days later also taking Opdivo treatments!!!! Do not let anyone you know use the drug!!!!

  • maryOctober 22, 2016 at 5:38 pm

    My husband was not diagnosed with Gullain barre syndrome but had many of the symptoms after being treated with Opdivo. He also was not treated but we were told the Opdivo was not working and he put on Hospice. He died seven days later

  • MaryAugust 26, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    My husband contracted Guillain-barre syndrome from the cancer treatment opdivo. And instead of helping him overcome it they are putting him on Hospice. The doctors discharged him so I have no doctor to fight for us for him to get what he needs.

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