Can cancer be treated as aggressively if you have COPD?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Can cancer be treated as aggressively if you have COPD?

Expert Answer

Senior Editor Melanie Haiken, who is responsible for's coverage of cancer, general health, and family finance, discovered how important it is to provide accurate, targeted, usable health information to people facing difficult decisions.

In most cases, having COPD shouldn't affect how aggressively doctors can treat cancer. A big European comparative study was completed recently asking and answering this exact question. What the researchers concluded was that having COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) did not in most cases influence the type of treatment doctors chose for patients. In other words, cancer patients with COPD were treated using the same methods (radiation, chemo, etc.) used for those who did not have COPD.

The main exceptions to this were patients with esophageal and non-small cell lung cancer, who were less likely to have surgery for their cancer if they also had COPD. Patients with head and neck tumors were more likely to have radiation than other treatments if they also had COPD.

However, the study did show that for all cancers and treatment methods, survival rates were poorer for those with COPD than for those who had only cancer. This was particularly true for elderly patients with COPD.