CRP: a marker of heart disease also raises both cancer risk and the risk of dying from the cancer

March 26, 2009

CRP is a protein that signals inflammation and the likelihood of heart disease; it may also show that a person has a high risk of cancer, researchers said on Friday. People with high levels of C-reactive protein or CRP, already being studied for its links to heart disease, had a 30% higher risk of cancer, Danish researchers found. They also found that cancer patients with the highest CRP levels were 80% more likely to die early.  

“These findings are preliminary and more research is needed to determine a precise link between CRP levels and cancer,” said Dr. Eric Winer, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School in Boston. “However, these findings support a possible link between inflammation and cancer, and the C-reactive protein test could one day be used to help select those patients who should be more frequently screened for cancer,” Winer added in a statement released by the American Society of Clinical Oncology.  

Dr. Kristine Allin and colleagues at the University of Copenhagen studied more than 10,000 people who had their CRP levels measured and then who were followed for 16 years. 1,624 patients developed cancer over this time and if they had high CRP levels at the beginning of the study, they were 30% more likely to be in this group of cancer patients.  

If a person developed cancer and also had a high CRP level, they were 80% more likely to die, whether from the cancer or something else, regardless of whether the cancer spread in their bodies, Allin's team reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Five years after cancer diagnosis, 40% of patients with high CRP levels were alive, compared with 70% of patients with low CRP levels. CRP is associated with inflammation -- an activation of the immune system. It is not clear precisely if inflammation may cause heart disease and cancer, or if it is a symptom of the diseases, but some doctors are beginning to believe that measurements of CRP should be part of a regular health check. "In addition to predicting heart disease risk, this simple test could help us assess a patient’s future cancer risk and eventual cancer prognosis,” Allin said in a statement. The study published online March 16, 2009 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.