Tumor necrosis factor, tumor necrosis factor inhibition, and cancer risk

Hervé Lebrec, Rafael Ponce, Bradley D. Preston, Jan Iles, Teresa L. Born, Michele Hooper

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


Objective: Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) is a highly pleiotropic cytokine with multiple activities other than its originally discovered role of tumor necrosis in rodents. TNF is now understood to play a contextual role in driving either tumor elimination or promotion. Using both animal and human data, this review examines the role of TNF in cancer development and the effect of TNF and TNF inhibitors (TNFis) on malignancy risk. Research design: A literature review was performed using relevant search terms for TNF and malignancy. Results: Although administration of TNF can cause tumor regression in specific rodent tumor models, human expression polymorphisms suggest that TNF can be a tumor-promoting cytokine, whereas blocking the TNF pathway in a variety of tumor models inhibits tumor growth. In addition to direct effects of TNF on tumors, TNF can variously affect immunity and the tumor microenvironment. Whereas TNF can promote immune surveillance designed to eliminate tumors, it can also drive chronic inflammation, autoimmunity, angiogenesis, and other processes that promote tumor initiation, growth, and spread. Key players in TNF signaling that shape this response include NF-κB and JNK, and malignant-inflammatory cell interactions, each of which may have different responses to TNF signaling. Focusing on rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients, where clinical experience is most extensive, a review of the clinical literature shows no increased risk of overall malignancy or solid tumors such as breast and lung cancers with exposure to TNFis. Lymphoma rates are not increased with use of TNFis. Conflicting data exist regarding the risks of melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancer. Data regarding the risk of recurrent malignancy are limited. Conclusions: Overall, the available data indicate that elevated TNF is a risk factor for cancer, whereas its inhibition in RA patients is not generally associated with an increased cancer risk. In particular, TNF inhibition is not associated with cancers linked to immune suppression. A better understanding of the tumor microenvironment, molecular events underlying specific tumors, and epidemiologic studies of malignancies within specific disease indications should enable more focused pharmacovigilance studies and a better understanding of the potential risks of TNFis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)557-574
Number of pages18
JournalCurrent Medical Research and Opinion
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Cancer
  • Inflammation
  • Malignancy
  • TNF
  • TNF inhibition
  • Tumor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Tumor necrosis factor, tumor necrosis factor inhibition, and cancer risk'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this