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Cancer Keys

Are COPD symptoms masking a lung cancer?

Published: 26th July 2022

2nd November 2018

Lung cancer is the 3rd most common cancer in the UK, yet the most common route to diagnosis is through emergency presentation.

COPD and Lung Cancer

Pre-existing conditions, such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), can increase a person’s risk of lung cancer and mask symptoms of the disease, making it difficult to diagnose at an early stage. How can you ensure that a patient’s symptoms don’t indicate anything more serious when they visit your practice?

The GatewayC’s Lung Cancer – Early Diagnosis’ course introduces Fred, an ex-smoker, who has already had a number of previous appointments for exacerbations of his COPD. Does Fred’s condition need investigating further?

Are COPD symptoms masking a lung cancer?
Image of Fred from GatewayC’s Lung Cancer – Early Diagnosis course

What does Cancer Research UK say about COPD and Lung Cancer?

COPD is part of a collection of smoking-related lung diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and chronic obstructive airways disease.

Lung cancer risk is 104-144% higher in people with a history of emphysema, and 47-52% higher in ever-smokers with a history of chronic bronchitis.*

Higher lung cancer risk in people with previous lung disease does not necessarily mean these diseases cause lung cancer. However, it is important to monitor the symptoms of patients with COPD as their risk of lung cancer is higher if they have this condition or a lung infection (pneumonia) compared to people who don’t have it.**

Cancer Key:

It is important to ask specific questions about presenting symptoms to a patient with a pre-existing condition.  These could include; ascertaining when the last course of antibiotics or steroids was given, asking about the length and nature of their cough, understanding the impact the symptoms have on the patient’s everyday life and establishing if there is the presence of blood in the sputum.

Find out more:

Access GatewayC’s ‘Lung Cancer – Early Diagnosis’ course here

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* Information from Cancer Research UK – Lung cancer statistics. See link here.

** Information from Cancer Research UK – Lung cancer risks and causes. See link here.

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