Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer are major lung diseases affecting millions worldwide. Both diseases have links to cigarette smoking and exert a considerable societal burden. People suffering from COPD are at higher risk of developing lung cancer than those without, and are more susceptible to poor outcomes after diagnosis and treatment. Lung cancer and COPD are closely associated, possibly sharing common traits such as an underlying genetic predisposition, epithelial and endothelial cell plasticity, dysfunctional inflammatory mechanisms including the deposition of excessive extracellular matrix, angiogenesis, susceptibility to DNA damage and cellular mutagenesis. In fact, COPD could be the driving factor for lung cancer, providing a conducive environment that propagates its evolution. In the early stages of smoking, body defences provide a combative immune/oxidative response and DNA repair mechanisms are likely to subdue these changes to a certain extent; however, in patients with COPD with lung cancer the consequences could be devastating, potentially contributing to slower postoperative recovery after lung resection and increased resistance to radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Vital to the development of new-targeted therapies is an in-depth understanding of various molecular mechanisms that are associated with both pathologies. In this comprehensive review, we provide a detailed overview of possible underlying factors that link COPD and lung cancer, and current therapeutic advances from both human and preclinical animal models that can effectively mitigate this unholy relationship.