How is C Reactive Protein Linked to Colon Cancer Risk?

What Does CRP Tell Us About Colon Cancer Risk?

What does c reactive protein (CRP) have to do with colon cancer risk and mortality?. Credit: Photo © A.D.A.M.

What is c reactive protein (CRP) and what does it mean with regard to both the risk of getting colon cancer, and the risk of surviving colon cancer if you already have it?

What is C Reactive Protein (CRP)?

C reactive protein, or CRP, is a protein that is found in the blood. CRP is produced in the liver and is called an 'acute phase reactant' - something which increases in response to inflammation in the body.

CRP levels can vary from person to person and can vary in an individual over time. Several things can affect blood CRP levels. Elevated CRP levels indicate that there is inflammation in the body, which can put a person at greater risk for colon cancer, and a higher risk of death with colon cancer.

What Would C Reactive Protein (CRP) Measurements Tell Me?

CRP is a substance that changes in response to inflammation. The more inflammation a person has ongoing in his or her body, the higher the level of CRP. In this way, a person's blood level of c reactive protein is a non-specific measure of his or level of inflammation.

CRP is considered non-specific, because many things can cause CRP levels to go up. This is because many things can cause inflammation. Some things which can increase the CRP level include:

  • Any form of infection, including a cold or the flu
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Obesity, and
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • Autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Dental disease or even poor dental hygeine
  • Heart disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Pregnancy
  • Medications such as oral contraceptives ("the pill")

C Reactive Protein Related to Colon Cancer Risk

In addition to other concerns, people with an elevated C reactive protein levels have an increased risk of getting colon cancer.

Because CRP is non-specific, it cannot tell us whether a person has colon cancer, just that the risk is higher.

This does not mean that CRP causes colon cancer. Rather, inflammation increases colon cancer risk and CRP is an indication of high amounts of inflammation in the body. Here's how it works.

What Is the Connection Between CRP-Raising Inflammation and Colon Cancer?

Many people are familiar with acute inflammation, which is signaled by things such as a fever or swelling and pain. When we measure CRP we are looking for another form of inflammation: the chronic, low-grade inflammation that can go on in the body every day.

To understand chronic inflammation, consider that every cell in your body conducts ongoing conversations with the cells around it. When inflammation is in balance, these conversations are similar to a pleasant, neighborly chat. This would be apparent with a low CRP level.

When inflammation is out of control, cellular communication becomes nasty. It's more like a shouting match, and even may lead to pushing and shoving.

Inflammation ratchets up the tone and volume of cellular conversations to damaging levels. When this is happening in the body, CRP levels will go up.

And the damage caused by excessive inflammation has been linked to development of many chronic diseases, including colon cancer. If you have heard that gum disease raises the risk of pancreatic cancer, it's probably the same idea.  Gum disease increases inflammation which in turn increases cancer risk. This means that anything that can help bring inflammation under control, may be an effective way to help lower colon cancer risk.  In fact, scientists believe the reason that aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as Advil (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxyn) lower colon cancer risk is through this mechanism as well.

C Reactive Protein and Death From Colon Cancer

An elevated C reactive protein level (CRP) is not only associated with an increased risk of developing colon cancer in the first place, but with an increased risk of dying from the disease as well.  The risk of dying from colon cancer was found to be higher in people with elevated CRP levels, even when levels were measured before the diagnosis of colon cancer was made.

How to Lower Your C Reactive Protein (CRP) Level

Learn how to reduce a high C reactive protein and you can take steps to improve your health. There are no guarantees that lowering CRP will lower colon cancer risk. But based on the latest research, the chances are quite good that the same steps that lower CRP will, indeed, lower colon cancer risk too!

Sources

Aleksandrova K, Jenab M, Boeing H, Jansen E, Bueno-de-Mesquita HB, Rinaldi S, et al. "Circulating C-Reactive Protein Concentrations and Risks of Colon and Rectal Cancer: A Nested Case-Control Study Within the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition." American Journal of Epidemiology 2010 172:407-418.

American Heart Association. Inflammation, Heart Disease and Stroke: The Role of C-Reactive Protein. Accessed: September 3, 2010. http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4648

Swede, H., Hajduk, A., Sharma, J. et al. Baseline serum C-reactive protein and death from colorectal cancer in the NHANES III cohort. International Journal of Cancer. 2014. 134(8):1862-70.

Zhou, B., Shu, B., Yang, J., Liu, J., Xi, T., and Y. Xing. C-reactive protein, interleukin-6 and the risk of colorectal cancer: a meta-analysis. Cancer Causes and Control. 2014. 25(10):1397-405.

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