Mechanisms Contributing to the Comorbidity of COPD and Lung Cancer

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Lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) often co-occur, and individuals with COPD are at a higher risk of developing lung cancer. While the underlying mechanism for this risk is not well understood, its major contributing factors have been proposed to include genomic, immune, and microenvironment dysregulation. Here, we review the evidence and significant studies that explore the mechanisms underlying the heightened lung cancer risk in people with COPD. Genetic and epigenetic changes, as well as the aberrant expression of non-coding RNAs, predispose the lung epithelium to carcinogenesis by altering the expression of cancer- and immune-related genes. Oxidative stress generated by tobacco smoking plays a role in reducing genomic integrity, promoting epithelial-mesenchymal-transition, and generating a chronic inflammatory environment. This leads to abnormal immune responses that promote cancer development, though not all smokers develop lung cancer. Sex differences in the metabolism of tobacco smoke predispose females to developing COPD and accumulating damage from oxidative stress that poses a risk for the development of lung cancer. Dysregulation of the lung microenvironment and microbiome contributes to chronic inflammation, which is observed in COPD and known to facilitate cancer initiation in various tumor types. Further, there is a need to better characterize and identify the proportion of individuals with COPD who are at a high risk for developing lung cancer. We evaluate possible novel and individualized screening strategies, including biomarkers identified in genetic studies and exhaled breath condensate analysis. We also discuss the use of corticosteroids and statins as chemopreventive agents to prevent lung cancer. It is crucial that we optimize the current methods for the early detection and management of lung cancer and COPD in order to improve the health outcomes for a large affected population.




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International Journal of Molecular Sciences, v. 24, n. 3, 2023.

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