The Link Between Chronic Inflammation and Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is a serious health problem and the leading cause of cancer death in the United States each year. Scientists have discovered a few causes of this type of cancer, such as cigarette smoke, but continue to explore other reasons. One factor under study is a link between long-term (chronic) inflammation and lung cancer.

What is inflammation?

When you injure yourself, such as a cut in the skin, you may notice that the area turns red and swollen. It’s inflammation, and it’s your body’s normal healing response to injury. It begins when the damaged tissue releases chemicals. Then your white blood cells trigger the division and growth of other cells to rebuild tissue and help heal the area.

When the cut is healed, it is usually the end of the inflammatory process. This is called acute inflammation.

But there is another: chronic inflammation, which is hidden deep within your body. It can happen even if you are not injured and it does not stop when it should.

Like a scale, your body works to balance “good” and “bad” inflammation. When this scale tilts towards chronic inflammation, it can damage your DNA and, over time, trigger cancer cells. For example, people with chronic inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are more likely to develop colon cancer.

Chronic inflammation affects your whole body, so it’s impossible to pinpoint a specific cause. Scientists believe that persistent infections, unusual immune reactions to normal tissues, and conditions such as obesity may be possible reasons.

Chronic inflammation and lung cancer

When it comes to lung cancer, experts have focused on a few things that trigger an inflammatory response and increase your chances of getting the disease.

Cigarette smoke

It is believed that inhaling cigarette smoke, even if you are not the one smoking, triggers an inflammatory signal and the creation of cancer cells in your lungs, a process that begins in your genes.

“It’s like lighting a match,” says Stacie Stephenson, DC, CEO of Vibrant Doc and president of functional medicine at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. “The [cancer-causing] the gene is the matchbox, the cigarette smoke is the match, and when you put those two together, you start the fire, which is cancer.


It doesn’t cause all lung cancer, but experts say smoking is the main trigger, causing 80% to 90% of cancer deaths in the United States

“Cigarette smoke is like a nuclear bomb for the lungs. It causes a lot of direct damage to DNA and causes a lot of other changes, ”says Conor Steuer, MD, assistant professor of hematology and medical oncology at Emory University School of Medicine and cancer oncologist. lung at the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University.

But there are things you can do to prevent this damage and lower your risk of cancer. The most important are to stop smoking and avoid the smoke of other people’s cigarettes, pipes and cigars.

Other inflammation triggers

But what if you don’t smoke and aren’t with anyone? Experts say other things less common in the world around us can also cause chronic inflammation and possibly lead to certain types of cancer:

  • Radon is an invisible radioactive gas released from the normal breakdown of elements in rocks and soil. It is found in low levels outdoors and higher levels in areas without good air circulation, such as mines.
  • Asbestos
    is a group of heat and corrosion resistant fibrous minerals used in insulation, flame retardant materials, automotive brakes and wall panels. People who regularly come into contact with asbestos at work are more likely to have lung problems than those who inhale it at low levels. The federal government now regulates its use.

Researchers are also studying the link between scar tissue, chronic inflammation, and cancer. In infections like tuberculosis, for example, scar tissue can form in the lungs “which continue to have a pro-inflammatory state,” Steuer says.

Drugs That Can Fight Chronic Inflammation

Certain medications can reduce chronic inflammation and your risk of cancer. Scientists have looked at the anticancer effects of anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which relieve mild to moderate pain and inflammation, but there are no clear answers yet.

“There’s good and bad inflammation, and these drugs weren’t specific enough to target that bad inflammation,” Steuer says.

A recent study of the arthritis drug canakinumab (Ilaris) in people who have had a heart attack found a surprising result: it can fight chronic inflammation, reducing your chances of getting lung cancer and dying from it. disease. But these are the first discoveries and research is ongoing.


Chronic inflammation, diet, weight and exercise

There is no direct link between lifestyle factors – such as food, weight, and exercise – and chronic inflammation and lung cancer. But experts say these things can increase your overall chances of developing cancer and affect healing from cancer. People who exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight tend to heal faster after surgery and other cancer treatments.

Focus on eating a diet low in saturated fat, animal protein, processed foods, sugar, and carbohydrates. Stephenson calls these foods a “toxic soup that triggers inflammatory processes,” which in turn could cause cancer cells to form.

Instead, increase these foods to balance the inflammation scale:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Lean meats like fish
  • Nuts and seeds

Exercise and weight loss, if you’re carrying extra pounds, are also key to lowering your chances of cancer, Stephenson says. “Fat cells are more inflammatory than anti-inflammatory drugs.” It is not always easy to stick to a healthy diet and exercise regularly, but “you have to move your body to help your body. It’s never too late to start reducing these risks and you feel better about doing it. “



Conor Steuer, MD, assistant professor of hematology and medical oncology, Emory University School of Medicine; lung cancer oncologist, Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University.

Stacie Stephenson, DC, Certified Nutrition Specialist; CEO of Vibrant Doc; president of functional medicine, Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

National Cancer Institute: “Chronic Inflammation”, “Asbestos”, “Radon”.

CDC: “What Can I Do to Lower My Risk of Lung Cancer?”

MD Anderson Center: “Inflammation and Cancer: Why Your Diet Matters.”

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