COPD and Lung Cancer

March 29, 2023

COPD and lung cancer are both severe conditions that affect the respiratory system. Though they are separate diseases there are similarities in how COPD and lung cancer progressively damage the lungs. Similarities also exist including risk factors for both diseases and symptoms patients experience. There is some evidence also that the two diseases are linked.  

COPD and Lung CancerCOPD and Lung Cancer

What is COPD?

COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a progressively worsening lung disease that causes shortness of breath, chest tightness and a general loss of energy as less oxygen circulates throughout the blood. In the United States, COPD affects more than 15 million adults, and many more do not know they have it. 

What is the Relationship Between COPD and Lung Cancer?

There is some research that shows that COPD can be a risk factor for certain types of lung cancer. COPD essentially promotes lung cancer through DNA damage and the undermining of DNA repair capabilities in the lungs. Ongoing cell damage eventually leads to new cells mutating and becoming cancerous. COPD lays the groundwork for lung cancer.  

Lung Cancer and COPD Life Expectancy

The survival rate of COPD patients over 5 years is in the 40% to 70% range. But if the COPD escalates to lung cancer those numbers become worse. A 5 year survival rate for lung cancer is about 18.6%, assuming that the cancer has not migrated from the lungs to other parts of the body.  

What is the Difference Between Lung Cancer and COPD?

COPD generally affects the respiratory system only causing telltale symptoms such as a persistent cough and wheezing. Lung cancer while it may have similar symptoms may affect other parts of the body such as loss of appetite and fatigue. Eventually lung cancer can reveal itself through bloody mucus with the cough. 

Stage 4 Lung Cancer and COPD Life Expectancy

Sadly, just 19% of those diagnosed with stage 5 lung cancer will survive any more than a year. Many lung cancer patients may also be suffering from COPD while also battling cancer. The more stress that is placed on the lungs and the body in general to fight the dual diseases leaves little hope for survival.  

Can COPD Cause Lung Cancer?

The relationship between the two diseases is so close that it is hard to tell where one disease begins and the other ends. However, many patients who suffer from COPD are more likely to eventually develop lung cancer. Many patients with lung cancer may also develop COPD while battling the disease.  

How is Lung Cancer Diagnosed?

Lung cancer typically begins with symptoms first detected by the patient and reported to their doctor. The doctor will schedule CT scans of the lungs to look for masses. Lung cancer may also be detected through sputum analysis and through tissue samples taken from the lungs. If cancer is detected, the severity of the disease is then determined by CT, MRI and PET scans.  

How to Treat Lung Cancer

Treatment for lung cancer varies based on the type of cancer and the severity. In some instances, surgery can be implemented to remove the tumor. Radiation therapy or chemotherapy may be used to destroy the cancerous cells. Targeted drug therapy is another option that pinpoints abnormalities in the cells and sets out to destroy them.  

How Can You Prevent Lung Cancer?

Most lung cancers can be linked back to smoking, Smoking destroys lung cells and promotes the development of mutated cells that can become cancerous. Smoking is also the foundational cause of most cases of COPD. Lung cancer and COPD are both highly preventable diseases as they relate to lifestyle behaviors that can be avoided.  


Both COPD and lung cancer are serious illnesses. But they may be prevented through smart choices. Not smoking or quitting smoking is the first step to avoiding long-term respiratory illnesses as serious as COPD and as deadly as lung cancer. Smoking cessation is a critical part of living a healthy life. If you smoke, speak to your doctor about quitting smoking for your sake and those of your loved ones.  Supplemental oxygen could also be useful in treating COPD. Consider using an oxygen concentrator to get extra oxygen in the lungs and also improve lung function.

Chris Vasta

Chris Vasta is the president of The CPAP Shop and an expert in sleep and respiratory therapy. He often provides insights on product design and functionality on various manufacturers’ prototypes and is frequently tapped to provide reviews on new releases.