Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ( COPD) and lung cancer are serious health problems worldwide, and these two diseases are linked in several ways.
COPD and lung cancer share several common risk factors
- Smoking is the number one risk factor for both diseases, whether it is secondhand smoke or exposure to chemicals or other fumes in the workplace.
- Genetic predisposition
- Age (usually over 40)
In some cases, patients find out they have COPD once they are diagnosed with lung cancer.
However, a patient with COPD does not necessarily mean that they will develop lung cancer. It means he has a higher risk, especially if he is a smoker!
Worldwide, an estimated 65 million people have moderate to severe COPD
An estimated 12 million people have the disease, but don’t know it yet.
Most patients are over 40 years old
The majority of patients with COPD are smokers or ex-smokers. Smoking is the most important risk factor that can be changed ! Between 20 – 30% of chronic smokers develop symptomatic COPD.
10 – 20% of COPD patients have never smoked. About 5% of COPD cases are due to a genetic disorder that causes a deficiency of a protein called A1-antitrypsin.
- It tends to develop slowly
- There may not be enough symptoms in the early stages
- Regular contact with the attending physician
- Lifestyle changes
Early symptoms can usually be treated with certain lifestyle changes that can help maintain a good quality of life for some time.
As the disease progresses, symptoms can become increasingly severe.
Patients in advanced stages may not be able to care for themselves. They are at increased risk of developing respiratory infections, heart problems and lung cancer. They may also be at risk of depression.
COPD generally reduces life expectancy, although the outlook varies greatly from person to person. Patients who have never smoked may have a shorter reduction in life expectancy than former and current smokers.
Aside from smoking, a patient’s outlook depends on how well they respond to treatment and whether they can avoid serious complications. The attending physician is in a position to assess the general health and prescribe the appropriate treatment.