AntiTNF Therapy Associated with Reduced Surgical Resections

Full text: Increased prevalence of anti‐TNF therapy in paediatric inflammatory bowel disease is associated with a decline in surgical resections during childhood JJ Ashton et al. Alim Pham Ther 2019;

From absract:

Design: All patients diagnosed with PIBD within Wessex from 1997 to 2017 were assessed. The prevalence of anti‐TNF‐therapy and yearly surgery rates (resection and perianal) during childhood (<18 years) were analysed

Results: Eight‐hundred‐and‐twenty‐five children were included (498 Crohn’s disease, 272 ulcerative colitis, 55 IBD‐unclassified), mean age at diagnosis 13.6 years (1.6‐17.6), 39.6% female. The prevalence of anti‐TNF‐treated patients increased from 5.1% to 27.1% (2007‐2017), P = 0.0001. Surgical resection‐rate fell (7.1%‐1.5%, P = 0.001), driven by a decrease in Crohn’s disease resections (8.9%‐2.3%, P = 0.001)…

Patients started on anti‐TNF‐therapy less than 3 years post‐diagnosis (11.6%) vs later (28.6%) had a reduction in resections, P = 0.047. Anti‐TNF‐therapy prevalence was the only significant predictor of resection‐rate using multivariate regression (P = 0.011).

Conclusion: The prevalence of anti‐TNF‐therapy increased significantly, alongside a decrease in surgical resection‐rate. Patients diagnosed at younger ages still underwent surgery during childhood. Anti‐TNF‐therapy may reduce the need for surgical intervention in childhood, thereby influencing the natural history of PIBD.

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Monotherapy or Combination Therapy with Adalimumab?

Since the introduction of anti-tumor necrosis factor therapies (anti-TNFs), the benefit of using these agents in combination with immunomodulators or as monotherapy has shifted a few times based on the latest studies.  The most influential recent studies had been SONIC and UC Success which indicated that combination therapy for Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis, respectively, was more effective and without more adverse effects than monotherapy. A recent study may create some additional uncertainty in this line of thought (Gastroenterol 2014; 146: 941-49).

The author performed a pooled analysis of data from 1594 patients with Crohn’s disease (CD).  Studies included CLASSIC I and II, CHARM, GAIN, EXTEND, and ADHERE.  In total, these studies provided 3050 patient-years of exposure. For individual patients, the median followup period was 1.5 years.

Key findings:

  • “Those patients receiving combination therapy had an increased risk of malignancy (other than non melanoma skin cancer [NMSC])” with a relative risk of 2.82.
  • Adalimumab monotherapy was not associated with an increased risk of malignancy other than NMSC
  • Combination therapy was associated with relative risk of NMSC of 3.46

In the discussion, the authors state “the data suggest that the increased risk likely is attributed to the immunomodulator therapy.”

A related editorial (884-86) helps dissect the articles strengths/limitations as well as implications.


  • the study captured data from randomized controlled trials.


  • median followup of 1.5 years –may not be long enough to detect a malignancy signal from anti-TNF therapy
  • unclear how many adalimumab monotherapy patients had been on a thiopurine previously


  • “Even if Osterman et al are correct, is this information clinically meaningful enough to swing the mono-combo pendulum back to mono therapy?”
  • “The clinical relevance of the increase in absolute cancer risk from 4 in 1000 with adalimumab monotherapy to 10 in 1000 with combination therapy for cancers other than NMSC is unclear”
  • This difference of 6 in 1000 “translates to 167 patients who are treated before seeing 1 excess cancer”
  • “Most (if not all) of the cancer risk is associated with thiopurine exposure…induction therapy is more effective with combination treatment–>”we propose that we should induce patients into remission with combination therapy, and then consider withdrawing thiopurines at some point.
  • “Consider treating younger males with thiopurines short term, or alternatively with methotrexate.”  Though the authors note that data from rheumatology brings some concern to methotrexate cancer risk (Semin Arthritis Rheum 2014; 43: 489-97). Source Article: Methotrexate Safety | gutsandgrowth
  • “Consider treating elderly patients with anti-TNF monotherapy to decrease their risk of serious infections”

Also noted: “Risk of Cancer in Patients with Inflammatory Bowel Diseases: A Nationwide Population-based Cohort Study with 30 Years of Follow-up Evaluation” (Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2014; 13: 265-73). n=13,756 patients with CD and 35,152 with UC. Key findings –among CD patients, the excess risk was largely due to extra-intestinal cancers such as hematological malignancies (SIR 1.9) and smoking-related malignancies (SIR 1.5).  Associations between UC and gastrointestinal/extraintestinal cancers were weaker (both SIRs were 1.1); the risk of gastrointestinal cancers decreased over the course of the study.

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Sticky Decisions with IBD Therapy – When an Infection or Malignancy Develops

A recent review article provides advice for management of biologics and immunomodulators when an infection or malignancy develops (Inflamm Bowel Dis 2014; 20: 926-35).  Serious infections are noted in 3-5% of adults receiving either thiopurines or anti-tumor necrosis factor agents (anti-TNFs); less than 0.1% of adults develop treatment-related lymphoma.  The recommendations are provided in 5 separate tables.

Table 1 addresses the issue of bacterial infectionsFor mild infections, the authors recommend that thiopurines (azathiopurine, 6-mercaptopurine) as well as anti-tumor necrosis factor agents (infliximab, adalimumab, certolizumab, golimumab) be continued.  Examples of these ‘mild’ infectious included E. coli UTI and strep pharyngitis.  For severe bacterial infections (eg. pneumococcal pneumonia), for both these therapies, the authors recommend: “stop, but may restart once treated.”  For bacterial opportunistic infections (eg. mycobacterium), for latent infections, “do not start until 2 to 4 wk INH” whereas for active infections, the authors recommend (for anti-TNFs) “stop, only restart after full treatment, and if IBD is severe.”

  • Table 2 addresses fungal infections.
  • Table 3 addresses viral infections (eg. CMV, EBV).  For EBV, the authors recommend stopping thiopurines and not restarting in male patients.
  • Table 4 addresses malignancy: solid tumors, hepatosplenic T-cell, EBV-associated lymphoma, and lymphoproliferative lymphoma.
  • Table 5 addresses skin cancers.

Towards the end of the review, the authors provide some context for the risks with thiopurines and anti-TNFs.  “The majority of side effects associated with thiopurines and anti-TNFs are mild, self-limited and reversible…the risk of a lymphoma developing on AZA/6-MP (4/10,000 patient-years) is comparable with the lifetime risk of dying from drowning (1/1112) or dying in a bicycle accident (1/5000).  The risk is much less than the risk of dying in an automobile accident (1/108).  Patients are willing to accept risks..if their disease is severe and the chance of a clinical response outweighs the risk.”

With regard to dual therapy, the authors note, “it has been our practice to lower the concomitant AZA/6-MP in patients on combination therapy with anti-TNF and then to stop the thiopurine in patients in deep remission for 3 years. However, this decision must be individualized, and for patients with severe, disabling disease, we generally do not alter treatment.”

Bottomline: This is a useful advice/handy reference for the sticky situation of managing IBD in the face of infections and malignancy.

Disclaimer: These blog posts are for educational purposes only. Specific dosing of medications/diets (along with potential adverse effects) should be confirmed by prescribing physician/nutritionist.  This content is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a condition.