Previous research has generated conflicting results with regard to the correlation between asthma and cancer. In a recent publication in the journal Cancer Medicine, researchers from the University of Florida (UF) sought to gain more clinical data to determine if there is a correlation between asthma and cancer, both overall risk and by cancer type, in the United States.

The retrospective cohort study assessed a large statewide database of health records and utilized data from more than 90,000 adults diagnosed with asthma in the One Florida+ Clinical Research Network between 2012 and 2020. The researchers also compared the data with that of approximately 270,000 adults without respiratory disease. The researchers constructed Cox proportional models to evaluate the correlation between asthma diagnosis and subsequent cancer risk.

The primary exposure was asthma diagnosis, and the primary outcome was time to incident cancer diagnosis after the index date.

The results revealed that by comparing the data with a group of adults without asthma, the researchers discovered that patients with asthma were 1.36 times as likely to develop cancer, and when evaluating specific cancers, the researchers discovered that patients with asthma had a greater risk of developing lung cancer, hematological cancers, melanoma, kidney cancer, and ovarian cancer.

The researchers also learned that inhaled steroids had a protective effect, and when investigating the data by specific cancer type, cancer risk was raised for patients with asthma who did not use steroids for nine of the 13 cancers examined. The 13 cancers studied were breast, prostate, lung, colorectal, blood, melanoma, endometrial, bladder, kidney, oral cavity and pharynx, pancreatic, ovarian, and cervical.

Among patients with asthma who used inhaled steroids, cancer risk was raised in only two of the 13 cancers studied, identified as lung cancer and melanoma, suggesting a protective effect of inhaled steroid use on cancer.

Based on their findings, the authors concluded, "This is the first study to report a positive association between asthma and overall cancer risk in the U.S. population. More in-depth studies using real-world data are needed to further explore the causal mechanisms of asthma on cancer risk."

In a press release, Yi Guo, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Health Outcomes and Biomedical Informatics in the UF College of Medicine and the lead author of the study, stated, "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. Our findings suggest that more research is needed to further examine the mechanisms through which asthma is associated with cancer, given the prevalence of asthma."

Dr. Jonathan D. Licht, MD, director of the UF Health Cancer Center, stated, "I was inspired to further examine this clinically relevant link after reading studies that found an association between asthma and cancer risk among patients in Europe and Japan. I knew we had a wealth of data at our fingertips through the OneFlorida+ Clinical Network that would provide us with a large enough sample to investigate this question in a meaningful way. The robust database allowed us to accurately identify the study population of United States patients with asthma and assess their medical history and cancer outcomes."

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