By Kathy Hubbard
Not all smokers will develop COPD, but almost all COPD sufferers are smokers. And although not all people with COPD will develop lung cancer, researchers who conducted a study in 2015 concluded that people with COPD are twice as likely to develop the disease.
The lifetime risk of developing lung cancer is 17.2 percent for males and 11.6 percent for females in smokers compared with 1.3 percent and 1.4 percent respectively for non-smokers. Is it any wonder that I tell you to quit smoking?
“Approximately 50 percent of smokers will have their lives curtailed by cigarettes,” the National Institutes of Health says. “Each cigarette smoked reduces life expectancy by 11 minutes such that males and females each lose an average of 13.2 and 14.5 years of life, respectively.”
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a serious lung condition that gets worse over time. Chronic coughing with mucus, wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath are the most common symptoms.
“COPD and lung cancer are closely linked diseases,” Healthline.com explains. “The two lung conditions are more likely to appear simultaneously rather than occur separately. Some research suggests that people who live with both COPD and lung cancer have a worse outlook than those people who have lung cancer without COPD. Results of one 2010 study showed that people with COPD had a higher chance of lung cancer reoccurring within 10 years than those without COPD – 21.4 percent compared to 13.5 percent.”
What does that mean to you? If you don’t smoke, you don’t need to worry, right? Well, not exactly. COPD isn’t the only risk factor for lung cancer.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists the radioactive gas, radon, as the second-leading cause of lung cancer. “Radon is odorless and colorless, so the naturally occurring gas can go undetected if it becomes trapped in houses and buildings. It’s thought that about one out of every 15 American homes contains high levels of radon.”
FYI, we can buy radon test kits for under $20 or home detectors for under $200 and we should all think about getting one or the other, right?
“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that radon leads to about 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year. People who smoke and are also exposed to radon account for about 18,000 of those 21,000 lung cancer deaths,” the Healthline article says.
Your risk for lung cancer can also be increased by exposure to secondhand smoke, or if there’s a family history of the disease. Other risks include HIV infection, autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis or if you’ve had radiation therapy to your chest.
Toxins can also increase your risk of cancer, Healthline advises. These include silica dust, diesel exhaust, dust, tar, chromium, asbestos, arsenic, cadmium, nickel and beryllium.
I didn’t know what beryllium is so I looked it up and it’s used in alloys with copper or nickel to make gyroscopes, springs, electrical contacts, spot-welding electrodes and non-sparking tools. Now we all know!
Getting back to our subject, if you have the symptoms of COPD or have been diagnosed with the disorder, your primary care provider should keep an eye out for any signs that may indicate lung cancer.
“You should also pay close attention to your symptoms. Although lung cancer does share some symptoms with COPD, such as coughing and difficulty breathing, there are a few subtle differences,” Healthline says.
Consult your healthcare provider right away if you experience fatigue, loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss, chest pain unrelated to coughing, hoarseness, bronchitis, pneumonia, or other recurring lung infections; coughing up blood or mucus marked with blood; a nagging cough, even a dry one that will not go away.
“When lung cancer spreads in your body, it can also cause headaches, numbness, dizziness, abdominal pain, yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice) and bone pain,” Healthline says.
In conclusion, think about this for a minute: COPD and lung cancer could almost be eradicated if cigarettes were to become extinct. Please, don’t smoke.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.