UF study links asthma and cancer risk

UF researchers have found evidence of a positive association between asthma and cancer risk in U.S. patients.

Patients with asthma are almost one-and-a-half times more likely to develop cancer than those who don’t have the respiratory disease, a new University of Florida research study has found.

Researchers analyzed a large statewide database of health records and administrative claims to reach their findings.

Courtesy of UF Health Dr. Yi Guo

“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,” said Dr. Yi Guo, 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 published March 31 in the journal Cancer Medicine. “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.”

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The study, supported by the Cancer Informatics Shared Resource at the UF Health Cancer Center, analyzed the data of more than 90,000 adult patients with asthma from the OneFlorida+ Clinical Research Network over an eight-year period. By comparing that data to a group of adults without asthma, the researchers found patients with asthma were 1.36 times as likely to develop cancer. When assessing specific cancers, the researchers found patients with asthma had a higher risk for lung cancer, blood cancer, melanoma, kidney cancer and ovarian cancer.

The researchers also found inhaled steroids had a protective effect. When analyzing the data by specific cancer type, cancer risk was elevated for patients with asthma who did not use steroids for nine of 13 cancers analyzed. In patients with asthma who did use steroids, cancer risk was elevated in only two of the 13 cancers studied: lung cancer and melanoma. The 13 cancers were breast, prostate, lung, colorectal, blood, melanoma, endometrial, bladder, kidney, oral cavity and pharynx, pancreatic, ovarian and cervical.

Courtesy of UF Health Dr. Jonathan D. Licht

More than 20 million adults and more than 5 million children in the United States have asthma, a common respiratory disease characterized by chronic inflammation. Research suggests about a quarter of all cancer cases may be caused by chronic infection and inflammation, which is usually caused by an infection or tissue injury that triggers an immune system response. If that initial acute response is poorly controlled, patients can develop chronic inflammation.

Despite the link, most prior studies of U.S. patients have not found an association between asthma and cancers other than lung cancer.

“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,” said Dr. Jonathan D. Licht, director of the UF Health Cancer Center. “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.”

Courtesy of UF Health Dr. Jiang Bian

The OneFlorida+ Clinical Research Network, an initiative of the UF Clinical and Translational Science Institute, integrates research across UF Health and the UF Health Cancer Center and its partners across Florida, Georgia and Alabama. It is part of the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute-funded national clinical data research network known as PCORnet.

“The increasing availability of large collections of real-world data such as linked electronic health records and claims from large clinical data networks like OneFlorida+ offers opportunities to generate evidence that reflects the patients being treated and cared for in actual clinical settings,” said Dr. Jiang Bian, chief data scientist at UF Health, a professor in the department of health outcomes and biomedical informatics and director of the Cancer Informatics Shared Resource at the UF Health Cancer Center. “Data-oriented research in biomedical research has been rapidly evolving because of the advancements in artificial intelligence combined with these real-world data. The success of studies like this one reinforces the importance of a solid data infrastructure like OneFlorida+.”

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