Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as a risk factor for lung cancer

World J Clin Oncol. 2014 Oct 10;5(4):660-6. doi: 10.5306/wjco.v5.i4.660.


The association between chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer has long been a subject of intense debate. The high prevalence of COPD in elderly smokers inevitably strengthens their coincidence. In addition to this contingent coincidence, recent studies have revealed a close association between the two diseases that is independent of the smoking history; that is, the existence of COPD is an independent risk factor for the development of lung cancer. Molecular-based evidence has been accumulating as a result of the efforts to explain the underlying mechanisms of this association. These mechanisms may include the following: the retention of airborne carcinogens followed by the activation of oncogenes and the suppression of tumor suppressor genes; the complex molecular mechanism associated with chronic inflammation in the distal airways of patients with COPD; the possible involvement of putative distal airway stem cells; and genetic factors that are common to both COPD and lung cancer. The existence of COPD in patients with lung cancer may potentially affect the process of diagnosis, surgical resection, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and end-of-life care. The comprehensive management of COPD is extremely important for the appropriate treatment of lung cancer. Surgical resections with the aid of early interventions for COPD are often possible, even for patients with mild-to-moderate COPD. New challenges, such as lung cancer CT screening for individuals at high risk, are now in the process of being implemented. Evaluating the risk of lung cancer in patients with COPD may be warranted in community-based lung cancer screening.

Keywords: Airflow limitation; Cancer screening; Carcinogenesis; Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; Computed tomography screening; Early intervention; Inflammation; Lung cancer.

Publication types

  • Review