November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, a crucial time to shed light on the often-overlooked connection between respiratory diseases and lung cancer. Chronic respiratory conditions, such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF), not only affect millions of individuals worldwide but can also increase the risk of developing lung cancer1. A small number of people living with these conditions may develop lung cancer, but understanding this link is vital for early detection and prevention efforts.
IPF is a chronic and progressive lung disease characterised by the scarring of lung tissue. It primarily affects older adults and restricts their ability to breathe easily, which can lead to severe respiratory distress, manifesting in symptoms such as chronic cough and breathlessness, and reduced quality of life as the disease progresses. The British Thoracic Society estimates that 30,000 people in the UK live with IPF, and the treatment options remain limited2.
Similarly, COPD encompasses a group of lung conditions, such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema, which progressively impair lung function. It is most commonly caused by smoking tobacco and, according to the NHS, 1.2 million people in the UK have been diagnosed with COPD3.
People living with COPD may be more susceptible to developing lung cancer due to the underlying inflammation and damage to lung tissue that is caused by COPD: it creates an environment that increases the risk of cell changes that could lead to cancer. Additionally, the same harmful substances that cause COPD to develop, such as toxic cigarette smoke, can directly damage lung cells, increasing the likelihood of cancerous growths.
It is estimated that around 1% of COPD patients develop lung cancer every year, which may be associated with genetic susceptibility to cigarette smoke4.
IPF, although distinct from COPD, shares a similar link to lung cancer. The scarring and inflammation in the lungs associated with IPF can create conditions conducive to tumorous growth. Moreover, individuals with IPF may require lung transplantation, and post-transplantation immune-suppressive therapies can further elevate cancer risk5.
Understanding the connection between respiratory diseases and lung cancer is critical for early detection and prevention. Individuals with COPD or IPF should be particularly vigilant about their lung health. Routine screenings, including CT scans, can help identify cancer in its early stages when treatment is most effective.
Other lifestyle changes can further mitigate the risks of developing lung cancer when living with lung diseases, for instance, quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, a balanced diet, and avoiding environmental toxins.
However, research into the link between respiratory diseases and lung cancer is expanding. Scientists are investigating the genetic and molecular underpinnings of these connections, which may lead to more targeted therapies and improved treatments.
Here at MAC Clinical Research, we share the belief in improving quality of life for those living with respiratory disease through clinical research.
MAC is looking for volunteers with moderate to severe COPD (aged 40-85) or IPF (aged 40+) to take part in their latest paid clinical research, investigating potential new treatment options for these conditions.
The clinical trials are running at several MAC clinics, primarily across the north of England. Eligible participants will receive reimbursement for their time and commitment to the trial, plus reasonable travel expenses will be paid, or transport provided, as well as a full medical check-up.
1 Cancer Research UK – Risks and causes of lung cancer
2 British Thoracic Society – BTS ILD Registry Annual Report 2020: a summary of the UK IPF Registry for the general public
4 European Respiratory Journal – Early detection of COPD is important for lung cancer surveillance