Could an asthma diagnosis be linked to lung cancer? Maybe, according to a new study.
Health experts have debated for years whether a connection exists between asthma and increased risk of cancer or COPD, also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Results have often been inconclusive, and only in recent years have researchers found verifiable links between asthma and lung cancer. Other cancers have generally not appeared to have an association with asthma. Until now, that is. A new study from the University of Florida’s Health Cancer Center showed that a connection between asthma and multiple types of cancer does, indeed, exist.
The good news for those with asthma is that using a steroid inhaler might significantly reduce that risk. Researchers found that people with asthma are roughly 1.36 times more likely to develop cancer than those who don’t have asthma. The new information is a bit at odds with the results of many earlier studies in the United States, which have typically failed to uncover an association between asthma and any cancers other than lung cancer.
While previous studies have shown lung cancer to be 44% more likely amongst asthma sufferers than those without asthma, the Florida team’s findings bring additional cancers into the mix. The study, led by Associate Professor Yi Guo, Ph.D, showed there was a connection between asthma patients and higher risk of lung cancer, blood cancer, melanoma, kidney cancer, and ovarian cancer.
“Using real-world data, our study is the first to provide evidence of a positive association between asthma and cancer risk in United States patients,” Guo said in a statement. Guo noted that further research is needed to examine the connections between asthma and cancer more closely so we can better understand and reduce the risks.
Hope for asthma sufferers comes from the discovery that individuals who used steroid inhalers — also known as corticosteroid inhalers — displayed a much lower risk of developing cancer than those who did not use inhaled steroids. Steroid inhalers include medicines such as Fluticasone and Budesonide. Albuterol Sulfate, among the more popular and common inhalers used by asthma patients, is a bronchodilator, not a steroid inhaler.
Guo’s study showed an elevated risk for 9 of 13 cancers amongst asthma patients who did not use steroid inhalers. But those who did use steroid inhalers saw increased risk for only 2 of the 13 cancers analyzed. The finding suggests that asthma sufferers might want to consult their doctor about whether using a steroid inhaler might help their symptoms in the short-term, given the longer-term benefits of reduced cancer risk revealed by the study.
Guo and his research team used the OneFlorida+ clinical research network to conduct their study. The database includes health records and administrative claims, and allowed the researchers to examine and analyze health information for more than 360,000 Florida adults over an eight-year period. They compared data on more than 90,000 patients with asthma versus more than 270,000 people without asthma.
Asthma is a fairly common disease that affects more than 20 million adults and more than 5 million children in the United States. Inflammation causes airways to swell and produce mucus, which can lead to wheezing, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and coughing. While some who suffer from asthma early on in life outgrow it, that’s typically not the case.