What to Know About COPD and Lung Cancer

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on August 24, 2022
2 min read

Both lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) affect your lungs. Both can cause shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing. COPD and lung cancer are usually thought of as separate illnesses that share some symptoms. But some research suggests they might be different ways that the same disease process shows up.

Smoking damages your cells. Your body fights back with antioxidants and DNA repair mechanisms. But if these fail, you can get cancer or COPD.

Coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath are common in both COPD and lung cancer. If you have COPD and get lung cancer symptoms like chest pain, or you're coughing up a lot of blood, call 911. If you have extreme tiredness, unexplained weight loss or a little blood when you cough, talk to your doctor right away. 

Both COPD and lung cancer are serious diseases. One study found thatCOPD lowered the odds of survival in people with lung cancer. Other research showed that in people with both NSCLC and serious COPD, chemotherapy increased 6-month survival rates.

While there's evidence that COPD and lung cancer are linked, their treatments remain separate. Your doctor may recommend treatments such as anti-inflammatory medication, extra oxygen, and lung surgery for COPD. For cancer, you might get chemotherapy, radiation, and targeted therapy drugs.

We need more research to look at the relationship between the COPD and lung cancer, and the possibility of treatments that might work for both.

One of the most important things you can do if you have COPD, lung cancer, or both, is to stop smoking. That stops further lung and DNA damage. It also lets you breathe easier, boosts your immune system, and helps you fight back against lung cancer.