A 10-year follow-up study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine reported that an elevated coronary artery calcium (CAC) score, a sign of vascular aging, appears to be an accurate measure of vulnerability not only to cardiovascular conditions but to non-cardiovascular diseases as well, including cancer, chronic kidney disease (CKD), and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
The research article, “The Association of Coronary Artery Calcium With Noncardiovascular Disease: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis,” was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Cardiovascular Imaging.
CAC is a measure accounting for risk factors that may contribute to arterial damage and the buildup of plaque, such as smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure. Although it is known that elevated levels of CAC (a score above 400) are indicative of increased risk of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality, the measure’s relationship with other diseases is not clearly defined.
“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. So it makes sense that the coronary calcium score — a measure of arterial aging — is predictive of noncardiovascular diseases too,” the study’s senior author, Dr. Michael Blaha, said in a press release.
To confirm the suitability of CAC, as measured by heart computed tomography (CT), to predict an individual’s vulnerability to a range of chronic diseases, the researchers followed a total of 6,814 participants from six MESA (Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis) field centers for a median of 10.2 years.
Among the evaluated patients, 1,238 were diagnosed with a noncardiovascular disease, including prostate, lung, gastrointestinal/colon, breast, skin, blood, and uterine/ovarian cancers; kidney disease; pneumonia; lung disease; dementia; and hip fracture. Patients with CAC>400, when compared to patients with no detectable CAC (CAC=0), had an increased hazard of cancer (53 percent), CKD (70 percent), and pneumonia (97 percent). Moreover, those with a CAC over 400 were 2.7 times more likely to have COPD, and 4.29 times more likely to develop a hip fracture. Those with CAC=0 had a decreased risk of cancer, CKD, COPD, and hip fracture compared to those with CAC>0.
Despite noting that this is an association and not a causality study, the researchers believe that those with CAC=0 are less likely to develop common age-related comorbid conditions, and represent a population of “healthy agers.”