What Is the Connection Between CRP and Cancer?

Doctors can determine CRP levels by drawing blood.
Article Details
  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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The connection between C-reactive protein, or CRP, and cancer is not fully understood. What is presently known is that high levels of this protein may be associated with greater risk for cancer. Individuals with certain cancers appear to have elevated CRP prior to developing and during cancerous illness. On the other hand, this protein level may also indicate numerous other diseases that cause inflammation. It’s possible that the association between inflamed tissues in the body and cancer is much more direct.

C-reactive protein tends to increase when there is bodily inflammation. It may be predictive of or confirm many different illnesses, and it can be used to determine how severe a known condition is. For example, individuals with lupus might have a CRP simple blood test to determine the significance of inflammatory response. Alternately, higher levels of the protein might suggest an elevated risk for heart disease, arthritis, or certain gastrointestinal illnesses.

Scientists have also found that elevated CRP and cancer are sometimes associated. Larger amounts of the protein may occasionally predict cancer or indicate its severity. This is complicated by the fact that this protein can also be increased in perfectly healthy individuals who are, for instance, pregnant or who have an intrauterine device (IUD). Patients with mild infections may also have abnormal CRP test readings.

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A number of studies have looked at large groups of individuals to determine if CRP and cancer are directly related. This has not been proven, though additional research in the future may provide more definitive answers. As yet, many clinical findings show that C-reactive protein tends to increase when people have cancer, principally because cancerous illness causes inflammation in the body. Possibly the reverse is true, too. Some research on clinical breast cancer has even established that higher CRP rates correlate to increased mortality.

It’s still unclear that the relationship between CRP and cancer is a causal one, especially since so many conditions can raise C-reactive protein without increasing cancer risk. Instead, many medical researchers believe that it is the inflammatory response CRP indicates, rather than the elevated protein, that most relates to cancer risk. Very high CRP indicates significant inflammation, which, in turn, may indicate the presence of cancer, a higher likelihood of getting the disease, or a more aggressive course of the illness. In other words, inflammatory response and cancer are strongly correlated, and CRP may be more of an incidental player.

Even if CRP and cancer are not directly related, measuring C-reactive protein may still be diagnostically useful. Additionally, establishing a connection between inflammation and cancer could be important. It may indicate that part of the treatment of cancerous illness should involve using anti-inflammatory drugs. Since high levels of CRP and cancer that is more severe have been associated, physicians can also use more aggressive measures to treat cancer in patients with higher C-reactive protein counts to hopefully improve survival rates.

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