You take about 30 breaths per minute. That’s 1,800 breaths every hour. But two common diseases may rob you of your breath: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer. And new research shows that the two conditions are closely related to one another.
Research shows that COPD is a major risk factor for lung cancer. In fact, if you have COPD, you’re about five times more likely than the average healthy person to develop lung cancer over the next 10 years.
And it works the other way, too: About 50 to 90% of people with lung cancer also have COPD.
Read on to learn why these two diseases are so closely connected—and what you can do to keep your lungs healthy.
COPD and lung cancer share one major cause: smoking. Smoking is the leading cause of COPD and is responsible for about 80 to 90% of COPD-related deaths. Smoking also causes about 90% of lung cancers.
Smoking causes inflammation in the airways, which can lead to both COPD and lung cancer. This inflammation is a main feature of COPD, making it hard for people with the disease to breathe. Some experts believe this inflammation may also cause changes in the body that contribute to lung cancer.
So, a lot of people have both COPD and lung cancer. And research has shown that having COPD makes you more likely to also develop lung cancer. But why? What explains this connection?
For one thing, COPD may cause changes in the body that contribute to cancer. COPD causes lung inflammation that worsens over time. This inflammation releases chemicals and proteins in the lungs that may contribute to cancer, experts say.
Studies also show that COPD itself—regardless of smoking status—is a risk factor for lung cancer. People with COPD have a higher risk of developing lung cancer than smokers without COPD.
Genetics may also explain part of the COPD-lung cancer connection. Research shows that some genes may make people more susceptible to both lung cancer and COPD.
If you smoke and you’re concerned about COPD and lung cancer, the best thing you can do is to quit smoking. Quitting smoking can help keep the disease from worsening. Quitting also lowers the risk for lung cancer over time. The longer you’ve quit, the bigger the benefits for your health. Talk with your doctor if you need help quitting. You can also call the National Cancer Institute Quitline at 877-44U-QUIT or visit smokefree.gov.
If you have COPD, talk with your doctor about getting screened for lung cancer.