Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder or COPD– a serious lung disorder is one of the major causes of mortality around the world. It accounts for more than 5 per cent of all deaths globally, and more than a million lives are lost each year in India alone. COPD is the collective name given to a host of chronic lung conditions caused by prolonged exposure to toxic air pollutants. It is severe, often irreversible, and incurable and causes the air passages in the lungs to get inflamed. This ailment is mostly caused due to inhalation of pollutants such as smoke from cigarettes, pipes, and cigars or due to second-hand smoke. Other contributing factors include fumes, chemicals, and dust. Besides genetics is one of the factors.

Due to the lack of awareness about COPD, many people do not know that the condition can affect their health adversely in the long run. Apart from other complications, research indicates that people who are at the greatest risk of lung cancer also have the highest prevalence of COPD. This is because they have a high prevalence of comorbid diseases such as COPD. Given that, this condition leads to impairment in lung function. Those with COPD often fail to meet the traditional criteria of tolerating definitive surgical lung cancer therapy.

The signs and symptoms of this condition include increased breathlessness, frequent coughing (with and without sputum), wheezing, and chest tightness. These symptoms should not be ignored. People encountering these signs should undergo regular medical screening as it can help in early diagnosis of lung cancer. As people with both COPD and lung cancer have a higher mortality rate, cancer screening becomes much more important in them than those without the disorder.

In a study of over 5000 participants, it was found that there is a positive correlation between the degree of airflow obstruction and lung cancer incidence in people with COPD. COPD ranges from stage I to stage IV. With time, the disease progressively becomes worse. Stage IV is also known as “end stage”. This condition is mostly diagnosed in middleaged or older adults. However, it is not contagious. This can be prevented by avoiding contact with tobacco smoke in any form. Among people with severe issues, medication is given including bronchodilators which help in relaxing the muscles around the airways, open the airways, and make breathing easier. Lastly, surgery is also suggested in some cases.

Being imperative, COPD has not been given much importance till date. Therefore, there is more judicious use of spirometry as part of a wider assessment and screening for lung cancer. This will make biomarker-based clinical decision making more effective and bring about substantial improvements in the screening efforts around lung cancer.

It is also important to make effective screening a mandatory part of routine preventive care procedures. To prevent COPD, public awareness programmes is important. Effective legislative measures must be enforced for controlling the menace of passive smoking as well.

The writer is medical director, Portea Medical.