Atrial fibrillation as a marker of occult cancer

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Abstract

BACKGROUND Recent studies suggest that cancer increases risk of atrial fibrillation. Whether atrial fibrillation is a marker for underlying occult cancer is unknown. METHODS We conducted a cohort study (1980-2011) of all Danish patients with new-onset atrial fibrillation. To examine cancer risk, we computed absolute risk at 3 months and standardized incidence ratios (SIRs) by comparing observed cancer incidence among patients newly diagnosed with atrial fibrillation with that expected based on national cancer incidence during the period. RESULTS Median follow-up time was 3.4 years among 269 742 atrial fibrillation patients. Within 3 months of follow-up, 6656 cancers occurred (absolute risk, 2.5%; 95% confidence intervals [CI], 2.4%-2.5%) versus 1302 expected, yielding a SIR of 5.11; 95% CI, 4.99-5.24. Associations were particularly strong for cancers of the lung, kidney, colon, ovary, and for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The SIR within 3 months of follow-up was 7.02; 95% CI, 6.76-7.28 for metastatic and 3.53; 95% CI, 3.38-3.68 for localized cancer. Beyond 3 months of follow-up, overall cancer risk was modestly increased (SIR, 1.13; 95% CI, 1.12-1.15). CONCLUSION Patients with new-onset atrial fibrillation had a markedly increased relative risk of a cancer diagnosis within the next three months, however, corresponding absolute risk was small.

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Ostenfeld, E. B., Erichsen, R., Pedersen, L., Farkas, D. K., Weiss, N. S., & Sørensen, H. T. (2014). Atrial fibrillation as a marker of occult cancer. PLoS ONE, 9(8). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0102861

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