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Possible Good News for Asthmatic Men

May 20, 2015 02:00PM ● By Cate Reynolds
If all this pollen, or just life in general, has aggravated your asthma, scientists at Johns Hopkins have some surprising findings to share—men with a history of asthma were less likely than those without it to develop lethal prostate cancer.

The observational study collected data from 47,880 men. The results, published in the February 27th edition of the International Journal of Cancer, found that men with a history of asthma were 29 percent less likely to have been diagnosed with prostate cancer that spread, or to have died of their prostate cancer. Overall, asthmatic men were 36 percent less likely to die of the disease.

The findings are particularly surprising, because some studies suggested that prostate cancer is linked to the kind of inflammation associated with asthma, which itself is a chronic inflammatory condition, says Elizabeth A. Platz, Sc.D., M.P.H., a professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and co-leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

Platz strongly cautioned, however, that it’s not possible from the study to say that asthma protects men from prostate cancer. “We don’t know yet whether the association we see in this observational study is a case of cause and effect,” she says.

The analysis suggested that men with asthma had a lower risk of developing lethal prostate cancer even when researchers considered such factors as whether the men took medication for asthma or whether their asthma was diagnosed early or later in life.

The researchers also analyzed links between a history of hay fever and lethal prostate cancer, finding a smaller but opposite association: Men with hay fever were 10 to 12 percent more likely to have lethal or fatal prostate cancer.

The 47,880 men ages 40 to 75 participated in Harvard’s Health Professionals Follow-Up Study from 1986 through 2012 and did not have a cancer diagnosis before 1986. Study participants had completed a questionnaire every two years, reporting on demographic information, medical history, medication use, and lifestyle factors. For men who reported a prostate cancer diagnosis, researchers evaluated their medical records and pathology reports. Among them, 9.2 percent reported a diagnosis of asthma, while 25.3 percent had been diagnosed with hay fever. There were 798 confirmed lethal prostate cancer cases in the group.

A few other studies have analyzed the association between asthma and risk of prostate cancer, but Platz says the Johns Hopkins analysis differs in its larger size and its focus on lethal cancer cases.

“We also looked at when the men got their asthma or hay fever diagnosis so we could be more certain that we weren’t missing a relevant ‘window’ of exposure that could influence prostate cancer,” she says.

--Sarah Hagerty
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What’s Up? does not give medical advice. This material is simply a discussion of current information, trends, and topics. Please seek the advice of a physician before making any changes to your lifestyle or routine.