Steroids May Cut COPD Lung Cancer Risk

Inhaled Corticosteroids Dropped Lung Cancer Risk by 61%; More Study Needed

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on April 04, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

April 4, 2007 -- Taking inhaled corticosteroids may lower the risk of lung cancer among people with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

Lung cancer is a common cause of death among people with COPD.

A new study suggests people who took at least 1,200 micrograms per day of inhaled corticosteroids had a 61% lower risk of developing lung cancer than nonusers.

Researchers say inflammation in the lungs is thought to play an important role in both COPD and lung cancer, and the results suggest that daily use of inhaled corticosteroids may help fight inflammation and prevent the progression from COPD to lung cancer.

Tobacco smoke is a well-recognized stimulant of systemic and local inflammation, and the role of inflammation in the causal pathway for both lung cancer and COPD has been suggested,” says researcher David H. Au, MD, of the University of Washington, Seattle, in a news release.

Smoking is a primary cause of COPD, which includes two inflammatory lung diseases that interfere with breathing: chronic bronchitis and emphysema. An estimated 11 million adults suffer from COPD.

Corticosteroids are powerful drugs used to treat inflammation and other conditions.

Preventing Lung Cancer?

Researchers followed a group of more than 10,000 mostly older male U.S. veterans with COPD who were treated in Veterans Affairs primary care clinics from 1996 to 2001. Of these, 517 were regular users of inhaled corticosteroids as determined by records of pharmacy refills and were included in the study's analysis.

The results, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Medicine, suggested that compared with nonusers of corticosteroids, those who took 1,200 micrograms or more per day of inhaled corticosteroids were 61% less likely to develop lung cancer during the course of the study.

The researchers note that this is an observational study that “cannot conclude that [inhaled corticosteroids] reduce lung cancer" and that the results need confirmation.

Researchers say no drugs have been clinically proven to prevent lung cancer among those at risk, but several are under investigation.

If further larger studies confirm these results, they say high doses of inhaled corticosteroids may play a potential role in reducing the risk of lung cancer among people with COPD. Previous studies have shown inhaled corticosteroids reduce markers of inflammation such as C-reactive protein and reduce airway inflammation.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Parimon, T. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, April 2007; vol 175: pp 712-719. News release, American Thoracic Society.

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