Does COPD lead to lung cancer?

November 15, 2017 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

You’ve heard it once and you will probably hear it again and again. Cigarette smoking can damage nearly every organ of your body, lead to a variety of diseases, and harm your health in general. One health issue smoking can lead to is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

COPD irritates your lungs and damages your airways. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of COPD but other long-term exposure to smoke, such as pipe and cigar smoke, can also damage your lungs, especially if the smoke is inhaled. Breathing secondhand smoke, air pollution, chemical fumes or dust from your environment may also contribute to COPD.

Just like smoking can lead to lung cancer, smoking can lead to COPD, which also increases your risk for lung cancer. According to a recent study, COPD patients have a higher risk of developing small cell lung cancer (SCLC) which accounts for 15 percent of lung cancer cases worldwide. There is also a connection between COPD and non-small cell lung cancers, which account for the majority of lung cancer cases.

It doesn’t end there either. The relationship between COPD and lung cancer is like a two-way street. COPD patients are more likely to develop lung cancer than people who don’t have COPD, and lung cancer patients are more likely to also have COPD than people without cancer.

Some researchers believe that COPD and lung cancer have common origins in inflammation and also may share some of the same genetics and environmental risk factors, since not everyone who develops lung cancer smokes.

A study in the American Journal of Respiratory Critical Care Medicine suggests that chronic inflammation likely damages lung cells, which results in COPD and leads to the next generation of lung cells mutating and becoming cancerous.

Early detection of COPD is important. Contact your doctor if you notice one of these signs and symptoms:

  • An ongoing cough or a cough that produces lot of mucus
  • Shortness of breath, especially with physical activity
  • Wheezing or whistling or squeaky sound when you breathe
  • Chest tightness

If you already have COPD, it is important to play close attention to symptoms of lung cancer. Although lung cancer does share some symptoms with COPD, such as coughing and difficulty breathing, there are a few differences:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Chest pain unrelated to coughing
  • Hoarseness
  • Bronchitis, pneumonia, or other recurring lung infections
  • Coughing up blood or mucus marked with blood
  • A nagging cough, even a dry one, that will not go away

If you’re still smoking, now is the time to quit. Talk with your doctor about programs that can help you succeed. Your doctor can help you create a quit plan, offer methods for slip-ups, and reinforce the reasons to quit.

Still struggling? The Integrative Medicine Clinic at Elmhurst Hospital offers a four-week smoking cessation program to give you the support you need to kick the habit for good. Learn more or call 331-221-6135 to register.

Want to detect a lung problem early to breathe easier? Take our free, 5-minute Lung Aware Risk Assessment.

Learn more about cancer services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Learn more about our COPD Clinic.

Read related blogs:

Revive your resolution to quit smoking
The hidden dangers of e-cigarettes

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