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Can Lung Cancer Cause High Blood Pressure? 6 Facts To Know

Medically reviewed by Leonora Valdez, M.D.
Written by Sarah Winfrey
Posted on June 6, 2024

Lung cancer and hypertension (high blood pressure) can be related conditions for some people. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with lung cancer, it’s important to keep your eye out for high blood pressure — and other lung cancer-related complications as well.

Researchers don’t know exactly how common high blood pressure is among people specifically diagnosed with lung cancer, though 40 percent of people with some type of cancer also have hypertension. They also know that having high blood pressure can make cancer harder to treat, due to potential interactions with cancer treatments and increased risk of cardiovascular events. They also know that people with high blood pressure are more likely to get some types of cancer.

Here’s what you need to know about high blood pressure and lung cancer. Understanding the connection can help ensure you get the diagnoses and treatments you need to keep your quality of life and sense of well-being high.

1. Some Lung Cancer Treatments Can Cause High Blood Pressure

For many people with lung cancer who develop high blood pressure, certain cancer therapies are the cause. The treatment options most likely to cause high blood pressure are:

  • Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) inhibitors, like bevacizumab (Avastin)
  • Certain tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs), such as gefitinib (Iressa), osimertinib (Tagrisso), and sunitinib (Sutent)

Other medications often taken to treat cancer may cause high blood pressure in some people. These include:

  • Glucocorticoids
  • Immunosuppressive drugs
  • Alkylating agents

If you’re taking these medications and stop, your risk of developing high blood pressure goes back down. However, researchers are not sure how taking these medications can affect your cardiovascular system or your blood pressure long term.

Having high blood pressure may complicate your treatment for lung cancer. One MyLungCancerTeam member experienced this and said, “I have my Avastin today. Unfortunately, I have high blood pressure (one of the side effects of this drug), so I will see if I have to increase my medication.”

Another shared, “I’ve been having a lot of side effects with Mvasi. Doctor took me off the drug last Thursday because I had difficulty breathing, headache, backache, and high blood pressure. It is very disheartening after doing so well.”

Read more about specific medications in this list of treatments for lung cancer.

2. Lung Cancer That’s Spread to the Adrenal Glands Can Cause High Blood Pressure

Sometimes, lung cancer can spread to the adrenal glands, small organs that sit above the kidneys and make hormones. When this occurs, it’s called metastatic lung cancer. Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type of lung cancer that spreads to the adrenal glands, but small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is most likely to be metastatic in general.

Tumors in the adrenal glands can cause a number of symptoms, including high blood pressure. This happens when the glands produce too many hormones and cause the body to act in unusual ways. Symptoms from tumors in the adrenal glands are rare, and 90 percent to 95 percent of people who develop them don’t experience any symptoms.

3. Smoking Can Cause Both Lung Cancer and High Blood Pressure

Smoking tobacco is connected to both lung cancer and high blood pressure. Approximately 90 percent of lung cancer cases in the United States are linked to smoking either directly or indirectly. Nicotine, an active chemical in tobacco, can cause high blood pressure, too, as it acts as a vasoconstrictor, meaning it can narrow blood vessels. Additionally, long-term exposure to tobacco smoke contributes to hypertension through oxidative stress and inflammation

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancerous lung tumors as well as high blood pressure and you smoke or have been exposed to secondhand smoke, that may be the connection between the two conditions.

However, the connection between smoking, high blood pressure, and lung cancer may be even more complicated. One study suggests that high blood pressure itself may put certain people at a higher risk of being diagnosed with lung cancer. Thus, smoking may cause lung cancer not only because of how it damages the lungs but also because it causes high blood pressure. Researchers don’t currently know exactly how this connection works or why high blood pressure might be a risk factor for lung cancer.

4. Eating Too Much Salt Can Cause High Blood Pressure

Eating high amounts of salt is associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure — and it also may indirectly affect a person’s risk for developing lung cancer. Consuming more than 2 grams of sodium or 5 grams of sodium chloride each day is associated with high blood pressure, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

If you know that your salt intake is high, it might be worth lowering it to see if it helps your blood pressure. Doing so can reduce your risk of developing other health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and osteoporosis.

5. Stress Can Cause High Blood Pressure

A number of factors associated with cancer can cause stress. High levels of stress often lead to higher blood pressure — though it usually goes down once the stressful situation changes.

Dealing with a serious diagnosis in yourself or a loved one is always stressful. Stress can come from cancer treatments and the discomfort they cause. Your emotions about your diagnosis or that of your family member can also be stressful.

Dealing with emotions around smoking can cause stress as well. One MyLungCancerTeam member explained, “I’m having anxiety and guilt about smoking.”

Another said, “I too am a smoker and have been smoking for almost 50 years. Just can’t nor want to give them up. It’s the only bad habit I have. … It’s my crutch.”

Feeling stuck doing something that is hurting your body and hard to give up can be stressful.

If you think your high blood pressure is associated with stress, talk to your health care provider or someone on your oncology team. They may have ideas about alleviating the stress you’re under, or they can help you find someone to talk to. Changing your stress level may lower your blood pressure, making it easier to treat lung cancer.

6. Cushing’s Syndrome Can Cause High Blood Pressure

A small percentage of people with lung cancer can develop a condition called Cushing’s syndrome. This occurs when there is too much of a hormone called cortisol in your body. Cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands and helps manage several bodily functions, including:

  • Reducing inflammation
  • Maintaining heart health
  • Regulating blood vessels
  • Controlling blood sugar levels
  • Managing blood pressure
  • Converting food into energy

Cushing’s syndrome can be tied to a prolonged intake of high doses of steroids, as well as to an excessive production of cortisol in your adrenal glands.

However, certain lung cancer tumors can also cause Cushing’s syndrome by producing adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). SCLC and bronchial carcinoid tumors are the most common types of lung cancer that do this. These tumors cause the body to produce ACTH in organs or locations that don't usually have it, raising overall cortisol levels, which can lead to high blood pressure.

Talk to Your Doctor

If you have high blood pressure or you’re concerned about it, talk to your health care team. They should be able to advise you regarding whether you’re at an increased risk of developing high blood pressure. They can also follow up with you to discuss treatments or prevention and what symptoms you should be looking for in case your blood pressure becomes elevated. Together, you can make a plan for your journey with lung cancer and high blood pressure.

Talk With Others Who Understand

On MyLungCancerTeam, more than 12,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with lung cancer.

Are you experiencing high blood pressure alongside lung cancer? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

    Posted on June 6, 2024
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    Leonora Valdez, M.D. received her medical degree from the Autonomous University of Guadalajara before pursuing a fellowship in internal medicine and subsequently in medical oncology at the National Cancer Institute. Learn more about her here.
    Sarah Winfrey is a writer at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

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