Comparative pathobiology of environmentally induced lung cancers in humans and rodents

Toxicol Pathol. 2015 Jan;43(1):107-14. doi: 10.1177/0192623314556516. Epub 2014 Oct 27.


Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer-related deaths in humans worldwide. Environmental factors play an important role in the epidemiology of these cancers. Rodents are the most common experimental model to study human lung cancers and are frequently used in bioassays to identify environmental exposure hazards associated with lung cancer. Lung tumors in rodents are common, particularly in certain strains of mice. Rodent lung tumors are predominantly bronchioloalveolar carcinomas and usually follow a progressive continuum of hyperplasia to adenoma to carcinoma. Human lung cancers are phenotypically more diverse and broadly constitute 2 types: small cell lung cancers and nonsmall cell lung cancers (NSCLCs). Rodent lung tumors resulting from exposure to environmental agents are comparable with certain adenocarcinomas that are a subset of human NSCLCs. Human pulmonary carcinomas differ from rodent lung tumors by exhibiting greater morphologic heterogeneity (encompassing squamous cell, neuroendocrine, mucinous, sarcomatoid, and multiple cell combinations), higher metastatic rate, higher stromal response, aggressive clinical behavior, and lack of a clear continuum of proliferative lesions. In spite of these differences, rodent lung tumors recapitulate several fundamental aspects of human lung tumor biology at the morphologic and molecular level, especially in lung cancers resulting from exposure to environmental carcinogens.

Keywords: animal models; comparative pathology.; environmental carcinogens; lung cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinogenicity Tests
  • Carcinogens, Environmental / poisoning
  • Carcinogens, Environmental / toxicity
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / chemically induced*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / pathology*
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Humans
  • Lung / pathology
  • Lung Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology*


  • Carcinogens, Environmental