Links Between Asthma and Lung Cancer: The Topic We Like To Avoid

Last updated: January 2022

A friend once asked me: “Are there some topics you avoid writing about?” And my answer was a quick “Yep!”

“Can you name one?” She said, “I’m just curious.”

I explained that several years ago I attended a Health Union conference in Philadelphia and met people from all the various Health Union communities. On the way from the hotel to the conference 1 morning, I walked with a lady from the community. She said, "Did you know there are links between asthma and lung cancer?'"

"No! I did not," I said.

She said, “It’s true." Our conversation flowed in many directions. Meaning we spent but a few short seconds talking about lung cancer and asthma. Still, all these years later, it is our discussion about the link between asthma and lung cancer that I cannot seem to get out of my head.

As writers, we are always looking for things to write about. And she could have written about this link. Although, as I peruse the community, I do not see any articles about it. I know I have avoided the topic.

Why do I avoid such topics?

Here is where questions flow in my mind. Is there really a link between asthma and lung cancer? Why would there be a link? Is it somehow related to the overactive immune response? Or is it due to the long-term side effects of the medicines used to treat asthma?

Besides, what would it make me change about my treatment regimen if I knew there was a link? What would it change about the way I live my life? And the answer is nothing. The medicines I use to control my asthma I need to be on. So, it’s not like I’m going to make any changes there. And my immune system is what it is. There is nothing I can do to change that.

So, there is nothing further I would do with this wisdom.

Another reason I have avoided writing on this topic is I don’t want people saying things like, “Oh my! Now I have yet another thing to worry about!” I, personally, don’t think you do. I do not think this is something you need to worry about. We, humans, are neat in that we all know we are going to one day get some disorder that will take us from this glorious world.  Yet, we all continue to live our lives as though we are going to continue living. And, I think, that is the best way to approach life.

Interestingly, as a kid, I used to think of stuff like this. I asked my doctor once: “Are there long-term effects of using all this rescue medicine?” And his answer was: “What difference does it make? You need this medicine to stay alive."

And he was right. And I put the thought out of my mind. Although, I did write about it a while back: “My Take On The Long-Term Effects Of Taking All These Inhalers.” My conclusion is that 30 years after having that conversation with my doctor, I still am not experiencing any of those long-term side effects, and I personally have not heard of other asthmatics getting lung cancer due to asthma, or any other ailments for that matter.

Why do I bring this up now?

I have the windows open again today. As I sit here at my desk I can feel a very nice breeze. And from my front window, I have a great view of the fall colors from my desk. As I turn on my computer and click on Facebook a study pops up showing links between asthma and lung cancer. That’s how I got on this topic. So you can blame Facebook for me bringing this up.

Is there a link between asthma and lung cancer?

One of the best types of studies are meta-analysis studies. These are studies that gather together all the data from all the studies on a particular topic. In this case, 18 studies showing links between asthma and lung cancer were analyzed, and conclusions were drawn. The results were published in 2017. They concluded that “asthma might be significantly associated with lung cancer risk.” 1

All asthmatics, whether male or female, smoker or non-smoker, had an increased risk of developing lung cancer. Although, the risk, if I’m reading the study correctly, is less than 1.5 percent. So, I'm not sure how that is a "significant risk." I am not sure how researchers define "significant risk." Still, there is an elevated risk in our community for someday developing lung cancer. 1


My theory above was that inhalers may explain the link. Although, the study authors did not mention this as one of their potential theories. My second theory was that an overactive immune response may explain the link. It looks like I was on to something here, as the authors gave this as their main theory explaining the potential link.

Our asthmatic bodies release chemicals in response to our asthma triggers. These chemicals cause airway inflammation, and inflammation is also a cause of lung cancer. Inflammation may cause reactive oxygen/nitrogen species in the lungs. And this may contribute to oxidative stress. 1

Oxidative stress is something new that researchers are looking into. They think it may explain why we age. It may explain why some people develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and they also think it may explain why some people develop lung cancer. On our sister site, I wrote, "What is oxidative stress."

And that is as deep as our research gets. So, there is a lot we do not know here. I think it is good that researchers are looking into this. The reason is if there is a potential link, better knowledge in this area can help physicians create strategies to lower the risk. And, of course, it may turn out that there is no link between asthma and lung cancer. That is my positive spin on this topic. What are your thoughts?

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