What is the difference between emphysema and lung cancer?

Medically Reviewed by Checkmark Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Sravanthi Sunkaraneni
What are the dissimilarities between emphysema and lung cancer?
Emphysema combined with chronic bronchitis constitutes a condition called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) characterised by damage and rupture of the walls of the air sacs of the lung leading to various symptoms. Lung cancer is the growth of abnormal cells that have undergone mutations damaging the lungs, causing complications and spreading to other organs and leading to death.

Emphysema and lung cancer are two distinct yet significant respiratory conditions that can have a profound impact on an individual’s health. While they both affect the lungs, it is crucial to understand the key differences between these conditions for accurate diagnosis, effective treatment, and improved patient outcomes. This article discusses about the causes and symptoms of emphysema and lung cancer and their treatment approaches.

What are the causes and symptoms of emphysema?

Emphysema is primarily caused by long-term exposure to irritants, most commonly cigarette smoke. Prolonged inhalation of these irritants leads to the destruction of the air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs, resulting in reduced lung function. Other factors such as exposure to environmental pollutants or genetic predisposition can also contribute to the development of emphysema. Symptoms of emphysema typically include shortness of breath, chronic cough, wheezing, chest tightness, and fatigue. Over time, emphysema can progress and severely impact a person’s ability to breathe.

Emphysema is a lung condition with symptoms such as shortness of breath caused due to damage to the air sacs in the lungs. The inner walls of the damaged air sacs weaken over time and rupture, joining with other air sacs to create larger air spaces. So, when people with the condition exhale, the damaged air sacs do not release the old air to make room for fresh oxygen.

People with emphysema often have chronic bronchitis that causes persistent cough due to inflammation in the tubes that carry oxygen to the lungs. When emphysema and chronic bronchitis occur together, the condition is called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is a major cause of death in India.

What are the causes and symptoms of lung cancer?

Lung cancer is primarily caused by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the lung tissue. Smoking remains the leading cause of lung cancer, but non-smokers can also develop the disease due to factors like exposure to secondhand smoke, environmental toxins (such as radon and asbestos), and genetic predisposition. Symptoms of lung cancer may vary depending on the stage and type of cancer but commonly include persistent coughing, coughing up blood, chest pain, unexplained weight loss, and recurring respiratory infections.

Lung cancer occurs when foreign particles alter normal cells causing mutations in genes making them behave abnormally. The abnormal behaviour mostly comprises uncontrollable growth and spread of abnormal cells along with improper functioning of various metabolic activities. A (2021) study published in the Journal of Thoracic Oncology informs that lung cancer holds the unfortunate distinction of being the most frequently diagnosed cancer and the leading cause of cancer-related fatalities worldwide. Within the context of India, lung cancer represents 5.9% of all cancer cases and is responsible for 8.1% of all cancer-related deaths.

What are the treatment approaches for emphysema and lung cancer?

The treatment approaches for emphysema and lung cancer are different.

Emphysema: The management of emphysema focuses on relieving symptoms, slowing disease progression, and improving the patient’s quality of life. Treatment options include lifestyle changes (such as smoking cessation and avoiding respiratory irritants), pulmonary rehabilitation, medication (such as bronchodilators and inhaled steroids), and in severe cases, surgical interventions like lung volume reduction surgery or lung transplantation. Oxygen therapy may also be prescribed to enhance breathing capacity.

Lung Cancer: The treatment of lung cancer depends on several factors, including the type and stage of cancer, overall health, and patient preferences. Options for lung cancer treatment include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy. A multidisciplinary approach involving oncologists, pulmonologists, and other healthcare specialists is often employed to provide the most effective and personalized treatment plan for each patient.

Besides emphysema, COPD is also often confused with lung cancer. It is important to know that all these conditions are different with overlapping symptoms. Emphysema icnreases the risk of lung cancer. Likewise, it is higher probability that COPD develop into lung cancer.

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Disclaimer
Medical Science is an ever evolving field. We strive to keep this page updated. In case you notice any discrepancy in the content, please inform us at [email protected]. You can further read our Correction Policy here. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment because of something you have read on or accessed through this website or it's social media channels. Read our Full Disclaimer Here for further information.

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