Major Types of Lung Cancers Are Heavily Dependent On Sugar, Research Shows

Some kinds of lung cancer tumors really like sugar, and blocking that sweet tooth might offer a way to treat the disease, researchers reported Friday.

The team at the University of Texas at Dallas were looking for simpler ways to tell one kind of cancer cell from another. They discovered that squamous cell tumors — which account for about 25 percent to 30 percent of lung cancer tumors — slurp up more sugar than other types.

“It has been suspected that many cancer cells are heavily dependent on sugar as their energy supply, but it turns out that one specific type — squamous cell carcinoma — is remarkably more dependent,” said Dr. Jay Jung-whan Kim, who led the study team.

“Adenocarcinoma is much less dependent on sugar.”

All cells use sugar, in the form of glucose, to one degree or another. But some use more than others.

Lung Cancer

'Addicted to sugar'

Cancer experts now know that cancer is not a single disease, and even the names of different cancer types are a little misleading. Lung cancer may start in the lungs, but there are several different types and subtypes and they have more to do with genetic mutations and the particular type of lung tissue affected than the fact that they’re first seen in the lung.

Kim’s team found that other types of squamous cell cancers, including head and neck, esophageal and cervical, tumors, also had very active levels of GLUT1.

They also found a link with smoking, the leading cause of lung cancer.

“Lung squamous cell carcinoma has been primarily linked to smoking. Indeed, we found that GLUT1 expression was strongly associated with smoking,” they wrote.

“These are very different organs and tissues in the body, but somehow squamous cell cancers have a very similar commonality in terms of glucose uptake,” Kim said. “This type of cancer clearly consumes a lot of sugar. One of our next steps is to look at why this is the case.”

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