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Respiration. 2011;81(4):265-84. doi: 10.1159/000324601. Epub 2011 Mar 24.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer: new molecular insights.

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Airways Disease Section, National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London, London, UK.


Both chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer are major causes of death worldwide. In most cases this reflects cigarette smoke exposure which is able to induce an inflammatory response in the airways of smokers. Indeed, COPD is characterized by lower airway inflammation, and importantly, the presence of COPD is by far the greatest risk factor for lung cancer amongst smokers. Cigarette smoke induces the release of many inflammatory mediators and growth factors including TGF-β, EGFR, IL-1, IL-8 and G-CSF through oxidative stress pathways and this inflammation may persist for decades after smoking cessation. Mucus production is also increased by these inflammatory mediators, further linking airway inflammation to an important mechanism of lung cancer. A greater understanding of the molecular and cellular pathobiology that distinguishes smokers with lung cancer from smokers with and without COPD is needed to unravel the complex molecular interactions between COPD and lung cancer. By understanding the common signalling pathways involved in COPD and lung cancer the hope is that treatments will be developed that not only treat the underlying disease process in COPD, but also reduce the currently high risk of developing lung cancer in these patients.

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