Elevated levels of the inflammatory marker high sensitivity C reactive protein (hs CRP) in persons who appear to be cancer-free may be associated with increased mortality from all causes and from cancer, particularly lung cancer.

In the study yielding these findings, Minseon Park, MD, PhD, MPH, and colleagues investigated the relationship between hs-CRP levels and all-cause mortality, cancer mortality, and site-specific cancer mortality in a total of 33,567 persons in Korea. Park, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the Center for Health Promotion at Seoul National University Hospital in Seoul, South Korea, and fellow researchers reported in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention that all participants were apparently cancer-free when they underwent routine checkups at a hospital health-screening center between May 1995 and December 2006. Baseline serum hs-CRP levels were obtained from all participants.

The study subjects were followed for mortality from baseline examination through December 2008. During a mean follow-up of 9.4 years, 1,054 deaths were recorded, including 506 cancer deaths.

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After the data were adjusted for several variables, men with hs-CRP levels of 3 mg/L or higher were found to be 38% more likely to die from any cause and 61% more likely to die from cancer than were persons with hs-CRP levels no higher than 1 mg/L. Women with those higher hs-CRP levels were 29% more likely to die from any cause and 24% more likely to die from cancer than were persons with the lower levels.

Variable-adjusted data also revealed that men and women with the highest hs-CRP levels were more than twice as likely as those with the lowest to die from lung cancer.