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Approved Research

Opioid cohort consortium (OPICO) to investigate the effects of opioid use on the risk of cancer incidence and mortality

Principal Investigator: Dr Mahdi Sheikh
Approved Research ID: 80725
Approval date: April 22nd 2022

Lay summary

Scientific rationale:

The specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization (IARC) has recently recognized the use of opium (opioids' natural source) as a cause of multiple cancers. This has raised major concerns about opioid medications, which are either made from opium or made to mimic the structure and some of the effects of opium. Animal studies also show some concerning relationships between using opioid medications and cancer. However, there is a lack of knowledge on the effects of opioid medications on the risk of cancers in humans. Very few well-designed human studies exist that have collected detailed information on opioid use and have followed the participants afterward. Nevertheless, too few opioid users have participated in these studies which would not allow comparing the risk of cancers among these individuals versus those who do not use opioids. On recruitment, the UK Biobank has gathered medication use data from the participants and has followed them up to record the diagnosis of cancer in the follow-up. This provides the opportunity to assess whether the use of opioid medication can increase the risk of cancers in the follow-up. Given that cancers are rare outcomes, we will not be able to assess the effects of opioids on all cancer sites using data from only the UK Biobank. Therefore, propose to combine the few available studies that have collected detailed information on using opioid medications and have followed their participants, to allow having a large number of participants that would enable an accurate assessment of the risk of cancers in relation to using opioid medications.

* Aims:

In this project, we aim to study whether the use of opioid medications could increase the risk of developing cancers; and whether the use of opioid medications could increase the risk of death from any cause and death from cancers, heart diseases, lung disease, and digestive diseases.

* Public health impact of the work:

The results of this project would have a significant impact on public health and global cancer control by enabling making appropriate changes in opioid prescribing practices to prevent the occurrence of cancers due to inappropriate use of opioid medications among individuals with chronic pain.

* Expected duration of project:

We expect to have the final results from the pooled analysis during the upcoming 3-5 years.