How Lung Adenocarcinoma Cells Survive Outside the Lungs

Extracellular matrix receptors shield cancer cells from harsh environments.

A new study identified how lung cancer cells can thrive outside the lungs, and eventually spread to the brain.

Lung adenocarcinoma is a lethal form of lung cancer, in which tumor cells often spread to the brain well before diagnosis. Furthermore, it can develop in both non-smokers and smokers. More individuals die of lung cancer annual than breast, colon, and prostate cancers combined.

Often, before an individual is even diagnosed with lung adenocarcinoma, the tumor cells have already spread to the brain. In a study published in Cancer Research, investigators sought to determine how the tumor cells can grow outside the lungs.

The investigators analyzed RNA from patients with adenocarcinoma that was limited to the lungs and in individuals whose cancer had spread.

The results of the study showed that aggressive lung adenocarcinoma cells had a high expression of proteins that allow the cancer cells to survive outside the lungs in small numbers. Furthermore, tumor cells that spread to the brain utilized an extracellular molecule that protected them from the hostile environment.

“These occult lung cancer cells have found a unique way to co-opt the ‘brain microenvironment’ and survive,” said lead investigator Don Nguyen.

According to Nguyen, the study findings have already resulted in a collaboration with a pharmaceutical company to test drugs that target this pathway.