Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer

Inhaled Steroids May Lower Risk of Lung Cancer in People With COPD

Recently I posted about the increased risk of lung cancer in people who have COPD. It seems that once you have COPD, you are 4 to 5 times as likely to develop lung cancer down the line.1,2 This risk prompted researchers to look for answers. Now, a new study suggests that taking inhaled steroids may lower the risk of lung cancer in people with COPD.3

Inhaled steroids and COPD

COPD is an inflammatory disease of the airways.4 Doctors commonly use anti-inflammatory medications such as inhaled steroids in the treatment of asthma, another inflammatory airway disease. However, the use of inhaled steroids for COPD is more controversial.5 In fact, steroids are generally only used in COPD patients in these cases:5

  • When there is a high risk of COPD exacerbations
  • If the patient as both COPD and asthma

And even in these cases, doctors tend to use inhaled steroids in conjunction with the more commonly-prescribed long-acting bronchodilators.5 Within the scientific community, there is not complete consensus on the benefits of using inhaled steroids as a treatment for COPD. Some experts question whether there is a subgroup of patients with COPD that might respond better to inhaled steroids, but this remains to be proven.5

This new study may provide another reason for using inhaled steroids in COPD patients in order to lower lung cancer risk.

Details of the study

The study was published in the April 7, 2019 issue of the European Respiratory Journal.1 It reported on work done by researchers at the University of British Columbia in Canada. This was a type of study called a retrospective study, where researchers observe past data using certain factors for evaluation. According to statsdirect.com: “A retrospective study looks backwards and examines exposures to suspected risk or protection factors in relation to an outcome that is established at the start of the study.” This is different from the kind of study where the outcome is unknown at the start and researchers may apply some sort of intervention to see what happens.

Here are more details of this study:

  • The team analyzed 10 years of medical and pharmacy data for 39,676 people in British Columbia who had COPD
  • Patients all aged over 50 years; mean age was 70.7 years
  • All patients had been prescribed at least 3 medications for COPD
  • 2.5% (994) of the study group of 39,676 had contracted lung cancer

Researchers then compared whether those who did not contract lung cancer vs. those who did had been on inhaled steroids.

Inhaled steroids appeared to lower the risk of lung cancer

After examining all the data, the researchers at the University of British Columbia concluded that taking inhaled steroids appeared to lower the risk of getting lung cancer after having COPD.5 In fact, in a press release, Larry Lynd, PhD, one of the co-authors of the study, says: “Results showed that if you had COPD and consistently used a steroid inhaler, your chances of getting lung cancer were between 25 percent and 30 percent lower, compared to people who took other treatments.”

However, the researchers also pointed out that there were some limitations to their study:6

  • The data suggests a link, but not an exact cause and effect relationship.
  • There is no proof that using inhaled steroids prevents lung cancer altogether.
  • The data relied on administrative record keeping, which was somewhat limited in scope.

In the future, the study team hopes to take a closer look at how inhaled steroids might help to reduce the risk of lung cancer in people with COPD.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The COPD.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Cunningham, Y., Wyke, S., Blyth, K. G., Rigg, D., Macdonald, S., Macleod, U., . . . Whitaker, K. L. (2019). Lung cancer symptom appraisal among people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: A qualitative interview study. Psycho-Oncology, 28(4), 718-725. doi:10.1002/pon.5005
  2. Durham, A., & Adcock, I. (2015). The relationship between COPD and lung cancer. Lung Cancer, 90(2), 121-127. doi:10.1016/j.lungcan.2015.08.017
  3. Raymakers, A. J., Sadatsafavi, M., Sin, D. D., Fitzgerald, J. M., Marra, C. A., & Lynd, L. D. (2019). Inhaled corticosteroids and the risk of lung cancer in COPD: A population-based cohort study. European Respiratory Journal, 53(6), 1801257. doi:10.1183/13993003.01257-2018
  4. Vogelmeier, C. F., Criner, G. J., Martinez, F. J., Anzueto, A., Barnes, P. J., Bourbeau, J., . . . Agustí, A. (2017). Global Strategy for the Diagnosis, Management, and Prevention of Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease 2017 Report. GOLD Executive Summary. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 195(5), 557-582. doi:10.1164/rccm.201701-0218pp
  5. Agusti, A., & Fabbri, L. M. (2014). Inhaled steroids in COPD: When should they be used? The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, 2(11), 869-871. doi:10.1016/s2213-2600(14)70227-9
  6. UBCnews. (n.d.). Steroids can reduce lung cancer risk in COPD patients. Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-05/uobc-scr052419.php

Comments

  • BeverlyDeMarco
    3 months ago

    My LUNG DOCTOR PUT ME ON A LOW DOSE OF PREDISZONE ONCE EVERYDAY 5MG, ITS A BIG HELP, I HAD A CATSCAN LAST WEEK THAT CAME BACK SHOWING TWO SPOTS ON MY LUNG, I AM GOING FOR A PETSCAN NEXT WEDNESDAY TO SEE IF IT IS CANCER, I AM VERY NERVOUS ABOUT CANCER, MY SON WENT THROUGH CANCER THREE YEARS AGO AND IS IN REMISSION, HE HAD CHEMO FOR FOUR MONTHS AND WENT THROUGH HELL. I ALREADY TOLD MY DOCTOR I WOULD NOT GO THROUGH CHEMO OR RADIATION AND LIVE THE REST OF MY LIFE WITH ALL THE BAD SIDE EFFECTS OF CHEMO AND RADIATION. ,SO PLEASE PRAY FOR ME .

  • ajschulte
    3 months ago

    Hi Berverly. One of the reasons I am sharing with you this information is to let you know you are not alone and I feel for you and will pray for you. In my case I had to cat scans the first one nothing was said to me except the obvious COPD. This I had another cat scan and called me up to talk with my primary.so, I did and she confirmed that it shows that I have a mass in my left lung and she set me an appointment with abiotic specialist. I went there and she pulled her computer in front of my husband (who is always with at doctors visits)and showed us the old ct scan and compared it with the new one and said that in 3 years and a half it barely grew so if it takes as long to grow in the future then there is not much to worry about, on the other she will not be able to tell me if is bending or malignant because I am too weak for to put me threw anasthesia or surgery. Unles I really want to know it is best to live well alone, we also know that if it is malignant once you open up for a biopsy and being inside the lung they have to open so we decide to leave it be. The annoyance is sometimes I feel some pain in back where the mass is. Another reason to leave it alone is my age at 77 and having several chronic ailments I am leaving my case for to God decide, after all T my age and how I feel does discourage me from trying assuming it is the bad I will probable live for quite some years before that silly thing will come knocking at my door. I am living my life to it’s fullest considering that I am not to bad off. I eat well,sleep well exercise have a wonderful husband who cleanse house for me and I do the cooking while he is on stand by same with the laundry. I usually weather permitted go out grocery shopping or thrift stores shopping I love going to hospice stores it makes me feel that the couple of $’s spent in there plus all the other customers help people like (when my turn comes). I have works 25 years as aspecial caregiver for hospice and I went through all kinds of experience because I have empathy I have hurt with them and helped them feel the love I had for them talk freely with them about spiritual feelings most were free of pain thanks to the drugs they were given. Only a few suffered because they did not want to take drugs. Well I feel that if and when my time arrives I will be more than happy to take them. I hope you feel better reading this. Faith has helped me and my patients immensely . God bless you.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    3 months ago

    Hi Beverly and thanks so much for this post. It’s so good to hear the daily, low dose (5 mg) of prednisone has helped you so much! Your breathing must be feeling much better since you’ve been taking this medication.
    I remember you mentioned once before about the CAT scan revealing two spots on your lung and that now, you were anticipating a PET scan for a more complete diagnosis. It’s understandable how you feel about cancer and the treatment you mentioned (chemotherapy and/or radiation). Having watched you son undergo that same treatment surely had an effect on you. Once you have more information, I’m sure you’ll be better able to decide what you will do. We do appreciate your candor here.
    Warm regards,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • Poll