Lung cancer has long since taken on the character of an epidemic: the disease is already responsible for more than a quarter of all cancer deaths, and the trend is rising. One reason for this is that the prognosis is poor: only one-fifth of patients are still alive five years after diagnosis. This is partly due to the fact that lung cancer is often not recognized until it is in an advanced stage. Another problem is that a variety of different lung canceras exist, each of which requires its own therapeutic concept. This, in turn, requires a better understanding of the disease.
Doctors have noted that many patients with progressive lung cancer develop shortness of breath and respiratory distress. The same symptoms also occur in diseases such as pulmonary arterial hypertension. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Heart and Lung Research together with colleagues from the German Center for Lung Research therefore measured the diameter of the pulmonary artery of about 500 lung cancer patients using computer tomography. “We found thickening of the walls of the pulmonary artery in more than half the patients. This is a clear indication that these patients also suffer from pulmonary hypertension,” says Rajkumar Savai, who headed the study.
To identify the causes, the lung researchers analyzed three different forms of lung cancer in mice. “These were tumour types that grow at different rates and can be experimentally induced in the lungs of mice. All three mouse models showed signs of pulmonary hypertension as tumour growth progressed,” says Soni Pullamsetti, the study’s lead author.