Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer can have a substantial impact on a person’s health, affecting how well the body is able to process oxygen. Both can be a serious side effect of smoking, but is there a relationship between cancer and COPD?
Various experts, including the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in collaboration with the Division of Cancer Prevention of the National Cancer Institute, have weighed in on the link between COPD and lung cancer. COPD appears to be a strong risk factor for lung cancer, even among people who have never smoked.
“Recent studies suggest that the genetic risk factors that predispose smokers to COPD may overlap with those that predispose smokers to lung cancer,” said Brian Carlin, M.D., a pulmonologist and chairman of the COPD Alliance. “A majority of patients with lung cancer have underlying, but often undiagnosed, COPD.”
The Cancer Prevention and Treatment Fund organization notes that more than half of all people with lung cancer also have COPD. Very often the symptoms of both conditions mesh. A person may discover he or she has COPD and then lung cancer, or vice-versa. Patients with either lung cancer or COPD often experience coughing and shortness of breath. They also may experience repeated episodes of pneumonia or bronchitis. But cancer may have its own distinct symptoms, such as hoarseness, blood in sputum, weight loss, and lack of appetite.
Lung cancer and COPD both can be fatal conditions when detected too late. Although COPD cannot be reversed, there are lifestyle changes and medications that can make breathing easier. Quitting smoking can prevent more serious consequences down the line, and many people with early stage cancers can be cured. As with many types of cancers, the stage of the cancer at diagnosis heavily influences prognosis.
People can take steps to stay on top of their pulmonary health. Quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke is one of the most important things people can do. Recurring symptoms of coughing, shortness of breath or fatigue should be brought to the attention of your doctor. If COPD is diagnosed, recognize that lung cancer may not be far behind.