The Deadly Link Between COPD and Lung Cancer

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a collection of lung diseases that block your airway, making it difficult to breathe and causing coughing, wheezing and mucus production.

If you have COPD, you are five times more likely than the average healthy person to develop lung cancer over the next 10 years. “This added risk makes it incredibly important to reduce all factors that add to your risk of lung cancer,” says Steven Chambers, MD of Pulmonary and Critical Care Consultants, Inc.

Results from a worldwide study released by Harvard in 2015 demonstrate a clear link between COPD and lung cancer. The study concluded that if you are a smoker with COPD, you are twice as likely to develop small-cell lung cancer (SCLC, the most deadly form of lung cancer) as a person who smokes but doesn’t have COPD.

Up to 18 percent of lung cancers across the world are SCLCs. People with SCLC live about nine to 20 months following diagnosis, depending on the extent of disease.

“Our hope is that researchers will continue to make progress in understanding the connection between COPD and lung cancer. Understanding that link may give us important information about preventing or treating both diseases,” says Dr. Chambers.

Genetics may explain part of the link between COPD and lung cancer. Research shows that some genes may make people more susceptible to both lung cancer and COPD.

Prevention is KeyThe Deadly Link Between COPD and Lung Cancer - In Content 

Smoking is an obvious risk factor for developing both COPD and lung cancer. Smoking directly contributes to up to 90 percent of COPD-related deaths and about 90 percent of lung cancers, according to the American Lung Association.

It causes inflammation in the airways, making it difficult to breathe and making the body susceptible to disease. Some experts believe the inflammation may cause a release of chemicals and proteins in the lungs that contribute to lung cancer.

When you quit smoking, you lower you risk of deadly lung diseases over time. Talk with your doctor if you need help quitting, and learn more about local resources.

“If you have COPD or are a long-time smoker, talk with your doctor about getting screened for lung cancer,” says Dr. Chambers. “As with all cancers, early detection offers us the best chance of successfully treating the disease.”

Steven Chambers, MD

Steven Chambers, MD

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