Lung cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world. It’s a leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women in the United States. Cigarette smoking leads to most lung cancers. The more cigarettes you smoke per day and the earlier you started smoking, the greater your lung cancer risk. High levels of pollution, radiation, and asbestos exposure also may have causal effects.
Now, recent research analyzing data from multiple studies of more than 25,000 people has added other risk factors. It linked previous bouts of three common respiratory diseases with an elevated risk of developing lung cancer. Awareness of these new findings can help you monitor your health better.
Know Your Medical History
A large pooled analysis of seven studies involving over 12,500 cases and 14,900 controls found associations between lung cancer and previous respiratory diseases including pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema. Subjects with histories of all three of these conditions had a greater increased lung cancer risk. Asthma and tuberculosis didn’t have the same connection. The American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine published the results.
Earlier studies showed similar links, but few considered multiple respiratory diseases simultaneously, according to researcher Ann Olsson, Ph.D., of the International Agency for Research in Cancer in Lyon, France. The investigators collected self-reported data on five previous respiratory diseases (pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, asthma, and tuberculosis). They adjusted statistical analyses for study center, age, employment in an occupation with an excess lung cancer risk, education level, and smoking habits.
Pneumonia and chronic bronchitis were the most frequent previous respiratory diseases. Analyses that adjusted for other respiratory diseases and smoking tied pneumonia diagnoses two or less years prior with lung cancer (OR=3.31 with CI 2.33-4.70 for men). The study team found a link between chronic bronchitis, emphysema and lung cancer with men’s odds ratios of 1.33 (95 percent CI 1.20-1.48) for bronchitis and 1.50 (95 percent CI 1.21-1.87) for emphysema. Asthma had an inverse association with lung cancer risk. The researchers found no tuberculosis connection.
Patients with concurrent pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema had a higher risk of lung cancer than those with chronic bronchitis only. No link existed between chronic bronchitis and lung cancer among patients with coexisting asthma or tuberculosis.
“The variations in the associations between lung cancer and different patterns of previous respiratory diseases that we observed in our study may indicate differences in the underlying etiological mechanisms,” Olsson said. “Better understanding of these associations may help guide the type and frequency of clinical surveillance needed for patients with each of these diseases.”
While pneumonia is treatable, spotting this infection early is a challenge. According to the Cleveland Clinic, pneumonia has multiple symptoms that can lead you to think your illness is the common cold or flu. Pulmonologist Marie Budev, D.O., medical director of the lung transplant program, notes that both conditions cause chest pain, fever, and coughing.
Bacterial pneumonia may develop after a cold, flu, or streptococcus exposure. It may cause chest pain, fever, and colored mucus. With viral pneumonia, you may experience mild congestion, coughing without mucus, and fatigue. Since viral pneumonia symptoms are mild usually, it requires minimal treatment. It can be more serious, however, if you’re elderly or have a weakened immune system.
Watch out for persistent or severe symptoms including significant congestion or chest pain, difficulty breathing, a fever of 102° F or higher, and coughing that produces pus. Budev urges seeing a doctor immediately if you experience chest pain or breathing complications. Pneumonia-like symptoms in adults older than 65 can cause permanent lung damage if you delay medical care too long. You may rely on home remedies like rest, fluids, and over-the-counter medicine when you misdiagnose yourself with the common cold or flu. But pneumonia symptoms last longer. So if congestion, chest pain, and coughing linger beyond three to five days without improvement, seek professional help.
Zyvox is a powerful antibiotic that treats bacterial pneumonia. If your doctor suspects that an influenza virus caused your pneumonia, he may prescribe an anti-flu medicine like Amantadine. Antiviral prescriptions such as Acyclovir treat varicella pneumonia.
Prevention Is Key
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), vaccines can prevent many bacterial and viral pneumonia cases. The pneumococcal vaccine helps protect you against some of the 90 plus types of pneumococcal bacteria. Consider the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine if you’re age 65 or older or at high risk for disease.
Annual flu shots are vital. Budev also stresses the importance of frequent hand washing to avoid the flu, which can leave you vulnerable to more serious infections. Also check your status on Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), pertussis (whooping cough), varicella (chickenpox), and measles immunizations.
Lung Cancer Basics
If you have lung cancer risk factors, early detection is crucial. The National Cancer Institute advises seeing your doctor if you experience these common symptoms:
A persistent cough that gets worse over time
Constant chest pain
Coughing up blood
Shortness of breath, wheezing, or hoarseness
Repeated bouts of pneumonia or bronchitis
Swelling of your neck and face
Loss of appetite or weight loss
Your doctor can diagnose lung cancer through physical exam, imaging, and lab tests. Treatments including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and targeted therapy depend on your disease type, stage, and advancement.