For more than two decades, Robert Kane refused to treat his psoriatic arthritis or the accompanying psoriasis. He had been diagnosed with the immune-inflammatory diseases when he was 12 and had since tried the gamut of medications to calm his itchy, scaly skin and achy joints. But the therapies either didn’t work or came with a host of side effects.
In 1990, Kane quit trying. “I was very frustrated by my doctors, so I just stopped seeing them,” he said. Even when his hands started to lock up, he just assumed that treatment wouldn’t be worth it.
Last May, some skin spots he suspected could be cancerous finally sent him back. While giving Kane the good news that he was cancer-free, his physician recommended Kane try a new therapy for his skin and joint woes. “I was very hesitant,” Kane recalled. “I had given up on treatments.”
Luckily, his doctor convinced him to give it a shot. Today, Kane is glad he did—his skin has cleared up, and his joints no longer bother him during the winter. “I’m so in shock that I’m clear for the first time in 38 years,” he said.
While psoriasis is a skin disorder, almost a third of people affected also develop psoriatic arthritis—sore and swollen joints caused by the same underlying immune-inflammatory disorder that leads to the skin symptoms. Since May is Arthritis Awareness Month, it’s a perfect time for psoriatic arthritis patients to re-evaluate their treatment.
Historically, psoriatic arthritis has been treated with steroids or other systemic anti-inflammatories. More recently, biologics—drugs derived from living cells that are given by injection or IV—have been introduced. But these treatments can have serious side effects and don’t work for everyone—as Kane learned first-hand. As a result, many patients go untreated; one recent study found that 59 percent of psoriatic arthritis patients are not taking a systemic therapy, and 45 percent of psoriasis patients had not seen a doctor in at least a year.
“When people hear the list of side effects, some say they just don’t want to go there,” Jason Faller, assistant clinical professor of Medicine and Rheumatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, said.
Over the past decade, though, a handful of new treatment options have hit the shelves, offering new choices with different safety and efficacy profiles.
I took a chance, and I’d encourage other people to talk to their physicians as well.
Staying with a new therapy for at least 16 weeks should give patients a fair sense of whether it will be effective for them, according to Dr. Faller. In the best case, patients can find a new treatment that eliminates all their symptoms, like Kane did.
“I took a chance, and I’d encourage other people to talk to their physicians as well,” Kane said. “At one point, as a kid, 85 percent of my body was covered by psoriasis. Now I don’t have a spot on me.”