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?

Can non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) suppress cancer metastasis?

A 2017 meta-analysis reported that NSAIDs are associated with lower risk of distant metastasis in patients with breast, prostate, lung, and colorectal cancer.1

The mechanism accounting for this observation is not fully understood. However, since inflammation has been implicated as a driving force for tumor metastasis 2, blunting the inflammatory microenvironment that surrounds tumors may explain NSAIDs’ reported beneficial effect.

NSAIDs may also have a direct effect on cancer cells. In-vitro studies demonstrate that NSAIDs induce the expression of a protein (p75 neurotrophic receptor, p75NTR) associated with suppression of tumor growth and metastasis in prostate cancer; this protein also suppresses growth of bladder cancer cells.3,4

Ibuprofen and indomethacin are among the commonly available NSAIDS shown to exhibit such anti-tumor effect. Interestingly, non-COX-inhibiting NSAIDS (eg, [R] flurbiprofen, an enantiomer of ibuprofen) may also be effective suggesting that inhibition of cell survival may not be COX-mediated.

Although these findings and observations are promising, randomized-controlled trials are clearly needed to better define the role of NSAIDs in the clinical management of cancer.



  1. Zhao X, Xu Z, Li H. NSAIDs use and reduced metastasis in cancer patients: Results from a meta-analysis. Sci Rep 2017; 7:1875.
  2. Qian BZ. Inflammation fires up cancer metastasis. Semin Cancer Biol 2017; 47:170-176.
  3. Khwaja F, Allen J, Lynch J, Andrews P, Djakiew D. Ibuprofen inhibits survival of bladder cancer cells by induced expression of the p75NTR tumor suppressor protein. Cancer Res 2004; 64:6207-6213.
  4. Krygier S, Djakiew D. Neurotrophin receptor p75NTR suppresses growth and nerve growth factor-mediated metastasis of human prostate cancer cells. Int J Cancer 2002; 98:1-7.

Contributed by Camilo Campo, Medical Student, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.

Can non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) suppress cancer metastasis?

My patient is asking about the benefits of smoking cessation. How soon should she realize the health benefits of quitting her habit?

She should realize the health benefits of smoking cessation (SC) almost immediately! As the effect of nicotine wears off, just 15-20 minutes after her last cigarette, her heart rate and blood pressure should begin to fall.1,2Other health benefits, some within a year others longer, soon follow. 3,4 Between 2-12 weeks after SC, your patient may notice an improvement in her breathing and pulmonary function tests.

Between 1-9 months, the cilia in the lungs should begin to regenerate and regain normal function, allowing her to adequately clear mucus and bacteria with a decrease in cough and shortness of breath.

At 1 year, the risk of cardiovascular disease (eg, myocardial infarction, stroke) falls by one-half.

At 5 years, the risk of mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder cancer also drops by one-half.

It takes 10 years for the risk of lung cancer to drop by one-half, and 15 years for it to approach that of non-smokers asymptotically. 4


Fun fact: Did you know that in hypertensive patients who smoke, the blood pressure lowering effect of beta-blockers may be partly abolished by tobacco smoking,  whereas alpha-blockers may maintain their antihypertensive effects? 5

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  1. Omvik P. How smoking affects blood pressure. Blood Press. 1996;5:71–77.
  2. Mahmud A, Feely J. Effect of smoking on arterial stiffness and pulse pressure amplification. Hypertension. 2003;41(1):183-187.
  3. US Surgeon General’s Report, 1990, pp. 193, 194, 196, 285, 323
  4. US Surgeon General’s Report, 2010 and World Health Organization. Tobacco Control: Reversal of Risk After Quitting Smoking. IARC Handbooks of Cancer Prevention, Vol. 11. 2007, p. 341.
  5. Trap-Jensen. Effects of smoking on the heart and peripheral circulation. Am Heart J 1988;115:263-7.

Contributed by Felicia Hsu, Medical Student, Harvard Medical School

My patient is asking about the benefits of smoking cessation. How soon should she realize the health benefits of quitting her habit?

My patient with metastatic lung cancer has a WBC count >20,000 without an obvious cause. Can it be related to the cancer?

Absolutely! Although tumor necrosis may be associated with mild to moderate leukocytosis, another explanation for a rise in WBC count (particularly when “leukemoid” like) in patients with cancer may be related to granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) production by the neoplasm itself.  

In vivo production of G-CSF by bladder cancer was reported over 25 years ago in a patient with marked leukocytosis (>100,000)1.  Subsequently, numerous G-CSF-producing tumors have been reported, including those associated with the genitourinary  tract (eg, bladder, ureter, prostate), lung, gynecological organs, gallbladder, stomach, esophagus, small intestine, pancreas, mesothelioma, thyroid, and myeloma2.

 In most cases, G-CSF-producing tumors are advanced with very poor prognosis 2.  Although the mechanism underlying a link between G-CSF production and tumor progression is unclear, a direct action on GCSF receptors of tumor cells, formation of more aggressive cancer cells,  and changes in  the function of T-cells and endothelial cells that may enhance tumor growth have been postulated2.



  1. Ito N, Matsuda T, Kakehi Y, et al. Bladder cancer producing granulocyte colony-stimulating factor. N Engl J Med 1990;323:1709-10.
  2. Yamano T, Moril E, Ikeda J-I, Aozasa K. Granulocyte colony-stimulating factor production and rapid progression of gastric cancer after histological change in the tumor. Jpn J Clin Oncol 2007;37:793-796.
My patient with metastatic lung cancer has a WBC count >20,000 without an obvious cause. Can it be related to the cancer?