Does tuberculosis (TB) increase the risk of cancer?

Ample reports in the literature suggest that TB is associated with the development of certain cancers, including lung cancer, lymphoma and urothelial cancers of the genitourinary tract. 1-5

A 2010 literature review including 9 retrospective studies found that several (not all) studies reported a significant association between prior history of TB and lung cancer, with odds ratios as high as 20.5 ( C.I. 8.1-51.8) at 1-5 years following TB.1 One study involving non-smoking women found a lung cancer (mostly adenocarcinoma) prevalence of 18% among those with prior history of TB (O.R. 5.9, CI 1.3-25.9).5 Cases of “pyothorax-associated lymphoma” of the pleural cavity have also been attributed to TB diagnosed as remote as 40 years or greater before the diagnosis of cancer.1

Urinary tuberculosis was associated with the development of urothelial carcinoma (including bladder, ureteral, renal pelvic transitional cell carcinoma) but not renal cell carcinoma in a nationwide cohort study from Taiwan (hazard ratio 3.4, C.I. 2.0-5.7). 2 The mean interval between the index date of TB and the diagnosis of urinary tract cancer was about 5 years in this study.

Several potential mechanisms for TB predisposing to malignancy have been proposed.1,6 Chronic inflammation associated with higher rate of cell turnover may increase the risk of genetic mutation and subsequent malignancy, as observed in other conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease and esophageal cancer and inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer. The ability of Mycobacterium tuberculosis to induce DNA damage, inhibit apoptosis and augment concentrations of leukotrienes, prostaglandins and vascular endothelial growth factors have also been implicated.

And don’t forget that active TB may not only coexist with but may also mimic malignancy (see related pearl on P4P).


Bonus Pearl: Did you know that the association of TB with cancer was first described in 1810 by Gaspard Laurent Bayle, a French physician who considered “cavitation cancereuse” as a distinct TB category? 1

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  1. Falagas ME, Kouranos VD, Athanassa Z, et al. Tuberculosis and malignancy. Q J Med 2010;103: 461-87. Doi:10.1093/qjmed/hcq068
  2. Lien YC, Wang JY, Lee MC, et al. Urinary tuberculosis is associated with the development of urothelial carcinoma but not renal cell carcinoma: a nationwide cohort study in Taiwan. B J Cancer 2013;109:2933-2940.
  3. Chin SN, Foster T, Char G, et al. Concomitant urothelial cancer and renal tuberculosis. Case Reports in Urology. Volume 2014, Aricle ID 625153.
  4. Dobler CC, Cheung K, Nguyen J, et al. Risk of tuberculosis in patients with solid cancers and haematological malignancies: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur Respir J 2017;50:1700157.
  5. Ko YC, Lee CH, Chen MJ, et al. Risk factors for primary lung cancer amng non-smoking women in Taiwan. Int J Epidemiol 1997;26:24-31.
  6. Ling S, Chang X, Schultz L, et al. An EGFR-ERK-SOX9 signaling cascade links urothelial development and regeneration to cancer. Cancer Res 2011;71:3812-21. 

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Catalyst, Harvard University, its affiliate academic healthcare centers, or its contributors. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!

Does tuberculosis (TB) increase the risk of cancer?

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