Greater Risk of Lung Cancer Found in Smokers with Pneumonia

Rate of lung cancer significantly higher in patients with upper lobe pneumonia.

A recent study suggests that screening heavy smokers hospitalized for pneumonia could improve the early diagnosis of lung cancer.

Lung cancer, which is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, shows no symptoms in the early stages. Once symptoms appear, the cancer is often at an aggressive and progressed stage.

This makes the disease difficult to catch in early its early stages. Today, 85% of all lung cancer is caused by smoking.

Only 15% of patients are diagnosed in the early stages and just 17% of patients have a 5-year survival rate.

The results of the study, published in the American Journal of Medicine, proposed that if heavy smokers hospitalized for pneumonia are screened, it could reduce mortality rates.

Investigators studied the files of 381 smokers with pneumonia between 2007 and 2011 at Rabin Medical Center.

They found that 9% (31 out of 381) of smokers with pneumonia were diagnosed with lung cancer within a year of hospitalization. The rate of lung cancer was significantly higher in those with upper lobe pneumonia (23.8%). In 75.8% of these patients, lung cancer was found in the lobe.

"Considering that only 0.5 to 1% of smokers without pneumonia have a chance of being diagnosed with lung cancer every year, the fact that 9% of our study group developed lung cancer is alarming," said lead researcher Daniel Shepshelovich, MD.

Currently chest X-rays and cytology are methods used for lung cancer diagnosis. Although they are able to sometimes find the cancerous tumors, it does not change the mortality rates.

"In other words, people are aware that they have cancer for longer periods of time, but do not recover,” Dr. Shepshelovich said. “This is not a solution.”

Dr. Shepshelovich strongly believes that heavy smokers who are admitted to the hospital with pneumonia should be considered for a chest-computer tomography.

"Only 15% of lung cancer cases are detected at an early stage,” he said. “We want to increase that number in order to reduce mortality or, at the very least, extend lives."