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High coronary calcium score may indicate higher cancer risk

The score was also associated with a higher risk for kidney and lung disease, researchers said.
By Stephen Feller   |   March 17, 2016 at 10:06 AM

BALTIMORE, March 17 (UPI) -- A high coronary artery calcium score was associated with developing lung and kidney disease, though high calcium was not shown to be a cause, according researches at Johns Hopkins University.

Coronary calcium levels are widely used method for monitoring heart and vascular disease, though researchers say the score can indicate seemingly unrelated conditions because of the effects of higher calcium and its resulting inflammation.

Coronary artery calcium scores are determined using heart CT scans to measure the amount and density of calcium in blood vessels, with higher scores indicating risk levels for coronary heart disease and stroke.

"Plaque in the arteries is the result of cumulative damage and inflammation, and vulnerability to injury and chronic inflammation likely contributes to diseases like cancer, kidney and lung diseases, as well as cardiovascular disease," Dr. Michael Blaha, director of clinical research at the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease, said in a press release. "So it makes sense that the coronary calcium score -- a measure of arterial aging -- is predictive of noncardiovascular diseases too."

For the study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Cardiovascular Imaging, researchers recruited 6,814 participants between the ages of 45 to 84 who did not have cardiovascular disease, following them for a median of 10.2 years.

Overall, 1,238 participants were diagnosed with a noncardiovascular disease, including cancer, kidney disease, pneumonia, blood clot, lung disease or hip fracture. Just 11 percent of participants with no coronary artery calcium were diagnosed with a noncardiovascular disease, compared to 36.9 percent of those with scores over 400.

Two-thirds of cancer diagnoses were among patients with calcium detected in their arteries, and higher levels were linked to an increased risk of disease: cancer risk increased 53 percent, kidney disease increased 70 percent, the risk for lung disease nearly tripled and risk for hip fracture increased by more than four times.

Patients with coronary artery calcium levels of zero saw their risk for all noncardiovascular disease decline significantly, ranging from a 23 percent drop in risk for kidney disease to 69 percent drop in hip fracture risk.

"The reason the coronary calcium score may work so well at identifying vulnerability to a variety of chronic diseases is because it's a direct measurement of the cumulative effect of all risk factors, rather than a consideration of a single risk factor, like obesity, smoking or high blood pressure," Blaha said.

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