Tuberculosis (TB) kills more than a million people worldwide annually. Recent research has unveiled a new risk linked to TB infection: an increased likelihood of developing various types of cancers.

Although TB, a contagious infection caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, primarily attacks the lungs, it can affect other areas of the body, including the brain and spine. It could also lead to complications such as damage to tissues and DNA, disrupted gene repair, and altered growth factors.

The latest study found that those with current or previous TB infection are more likely to have a diagnosis of a variety of cancers, including lung, blood, gynecological, and colorectal cancers.

The study utilized data from South Korea's National Health Insurance Service-National Health Information Database between 2010 and 2017, involving 72,542 TB patients and an equal number of matched controls.

Patients with tuberculosis were identified based on specific criteria: those with a disease code for TB entered into the system or treated with two or more TB drugs for more than 28 days. The control group from the general population was selected at a 1:5 ratio, matching various factors such as sex, age, income level, residence, and index year.

The researchers looked at the occurrence of newly diagnosed cancer cases after TB diagnosis, after an average follow-up period of around 5.5 years and an average age of 62 years among TB patients.

"Compared with the general population, the incidence of cancer was significantly higher in TB patients: 80% higher for all cancers combined; 3.6 times higher for lung cancer, 2.4 times higher for blood (hematological) cancers); 2.2 times higher for gynecological cancer; 57% higher for colorectal cancer; 56% higher for thyroid cancer and 55% higher for esophagus and stomach cancer," the news release stated.

The study noted that in people with TB, current smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, chronic liver disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) were also independent risk factors for cancer.

"TB is an independent risk factor for cancer, not only lung cancer but also various site-specific cancers, after adjusting for confounders. Screening and management for cancer should be warranted in patients with TB," the researchers added.

The results will be presented at this year's European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ECCMID 2024) in Barcelona, Spain.