Health & Medicine

Smokers Diagnosed With Pneumonia At Higher Risk Of Lung Cancer

Kathleen Lees
First Posted: Jan 07, 2016 10:43 PM EST
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Smokers diagnosed with pneumonia are at an increased risk of lung cancer, according to a recent study.

The new study, conducted by researchers at Tel Aviv University and Rabin Medical Center, proposes better screening for smokers admitted to the hospital with community-acquired pneumonia; their hope is that future screenings for heavy smokers diagnosed with pneumonia--who are in the highest lung cancer risk group--could reduce the overall incidence of mortality.

During the study, researchers examined the files of 381 admissions of heavy smokers with community-acquired pneumonia--otherwise known as a form of pneumonia contracted by an individual who has little contact with a health care system--at Rabin Medical Center between 2007-2011.

They studied all of the patient's medical files--specifically examining lung cancer risk factors, smoking history and the anatomical location of the pneumonia--meanwhile, crosschecking the information with the database at Israel's National Cancer Registry for new diagnoses of cancer.

Findings revealed that 31 from the sample--or 9 percent--were diagnosed with lung cancer. Lung cancer was also found to be significantly higher in patients admitted with upper lobe pneumonia (23.8 percent), while lung cancer that was located in the lobe affected by pneumonia in about 75.8 percent of cases.

"We discovered that smokers hospitalized with pneumonia are diagnosed with cancer after the infection because often the cancer masquerades as pneumonia, physically obstructing the airway and creating such an infection," said Daniel Shepshelovich, MD, of TAU's Sackler Faculty of Medicine and Rabin Medical Center, in a news release. "Considering that only 0.5-1% 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."

"The current diagnostic methods in place -- chest X-rays, sputum cytology -- sometimes find the cancerous tumors, but they do not change mortality rates," Shepshelovich added. "In other words, people are aware that they have cancer for longer periods of time, but do not recover. This is not a solution.

"Smokers admitted to the hospital with pneumonia should be considered for chest-computer tomography," he concluded. "Only 15 percent of lung cancer cases are detected at an early stage. We want to increase that number in order to reduce mortality or, at the very least, extend lives."

The study is published in the American Journal of Medicine

Statistics show that lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer mortality in the United States, with a five year survival rate of just 17 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.

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