The Link between Asthma, Eczema, and Cancer

It's hard to imagine anything positive about having asthma or eczema. However, a recent study suggested that men who have either immune system disease have a lower risk for common types of cancer.

Researchers suspect the over-reactive immune system may enhance our body's ability to remove malignant cells, which lowers the risk of cancer. In this study, men with asthma had a lower chance of developing stomach cancer, and men with eczema were less likely to develop lung cancer.

However, you shouldn't take this study to heart--at least not yet. Results from previous studies on asthma, eczema, and cancer have been mixed.


Asthma, an obstructive lung disease, affects five to 10 percent of the population. People with asthma suffer spasms in the bronchial tubes of the lungs that make it hard to breath. Unfortunately, the incidence of asthma is on the rise.

Asthma is an immune system disorder that may predispose people to cancer. In a 40-year longitudinal study of more than 140,000 patients who were hospitalized one or more times for severe asthma, the link between asthma and cancer varied, depending upon the type of cancer. Asthma patients were at highest risk of developing lung cancer, and at lowest risk for breast, ovarian, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and myeloma (cancer of white blood cells). Overall, participants had a 36 percent higher incidence of cancer. Researchers suspect that the asthma itself, not asthma medications, were associated with the increased cancer risk.

Earlier studies, which were shorter or included fewer patients, found a reverse association, or no association, between asthma and cancer.

In 2007, a study of more than one million women found that those with hay fever were 91 percent less likely to develop ovarian cancer, and women with asthma were 44 percent less likely to develop cervical cancer. The elevated level of certain proteins associated with these allergic conditions may have a cancer preventative effect.


Eczema causes dry, itchy skin and affects 10 to 15 percent of children. Two of the common medications doctors prescribe for treating eczema, Elidel and Protopic, suppress the immune system and may increase cancer risk. The Food and Drug Administration requires the makers of these drugs to issue warnings to patients who take them. Furthermore, people with atopic dermatitis (a type of eczema) may have a higher risk of developing cancer. The researchers note that the association between eczema and cancer does not prove cause and effect.

Patients with eczema and asthma should adhere to a healthy lifestyle to lower their risk for developing cancer.


"Men with Asthma and Eczema May Have Lower Cancer Risk." American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology press release. Web. 12 May 2010.

Ji, J., Shu, X., Li, X., Sundquist, K., Sundquist, J. and Hemminki, K. "Cancer risk in hospitalised asthma patients." British Journal of Cancer 100 (2009): 829-833. Web. 27 January 2009.

Leinwand, Donna. "Eczema drug labels to warn of potential cancer risk." USA Today. Web. 19 January 2006.

"Asthma and Related Tissue Inflammation May Contribute to Cancer Metastasizing to Lung. Medscape Medical News. Web. 22 October 2008.

"Hay Fever, Asthma Linked to Lower Prevalence of Ovarian and Cervical Cancer." Medscape Medical News. Web. November 2007.

"Eczema Drugs Elidel and Protopic May Be Linked to Cancer Risk. Medscape Medical News. 11 March 2005.

"Eczema Drugs May Need Wider Caution in Kids: FDA Staff." Medscape Medical News. Web. 18 March 2010.

"Atopic Dermatitis Linked to Cancer Risk: Study." Medscape Medical News. Web. 24 June 2010.