Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is linked to a heightened risk of lung cancer in people who have never smoked, according to a new study published in Thorax. This risk is on par with that of smokers without chronic lung disease, according to the study.

Researchers used data from the National Health Insurance Service (NHIS) National Sample Cohort study involving a representative sample of Korean citizens. The study included 146,996 men and 191,552 women between the ages of 40 and 84 with no history of lung cancer. The participants also had at least 1 health check provided by NHIS between 2002 and 2013.

Their health was tracked for an average of 7 years based on inpatient and outpatient treatment and prescriptions issued. During this period, 1834 participants developed lung cancer, of whom 290 had COPD and 1544 did not, according to the researchers.

Those without COPD who were current or former smokers were approximately twice as likely to develop lung cancer, whereas those with COPD were 6 times as likely compared with those who had never smoked before or did not have COPD. 

Taking into account the potential of influential factors among those who had never smoked, people with COPD were more than 2.5 times as likely to develop lung cancer as those without COPD, according to the analysis.

“Given that poor lung function in COPD is often a barrier to optimal lung cancer treatment due to increased risk of treatment related morbidities, our study suggests that early detection of lung cancer in COPD patients may reduce the risk of treatment complications,” the researchers said in a press release.

The researchers emphasized that the severity of COPD wasn’t assessed, nor were they able to gather information on environmental and occupational exposures, all of which may have influenced the development of lung cancer.

COPD linked to heightened risk of lung cancer in people who have never smoked. BMJ. Published April 2, 2020. Accessed April 6, 2020.