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Emphysema and lung cancer

My father had severe emphysema but died from lung cancer we didn't know he had. Could the emphysema have caused lung cancer?

We are sorry to hear of your father's death. This must be a difficult time for you. We hope that the following information helps you understand more about emphysema and lung cancer. 

Emphysema doesn't cause lung cancer. Emphysema is one of a group of lung diseases known as chronic obstructive airways disease (COAD) or sometimes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The main cause of emphysema is smoking but it can also develop in people with a long history of chest infections. So people who have emphysema may also have a higher than average risk of getting lung cancer because they have been smokers or have had other lung disease in the past. 

Emphysema causes a lot of lung damage. The walls of some of the air sacs in the lung actually break down. It can be difficult to spot lung cancer in people with emphysema because many of the symptoms are the same. Symptoms of emphysema that also occur in lung cancer include

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Cough
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

So it can be very difficult for a doctor to tell if a patient with emphysema has developed lung cancer.

We can appreciate that you may find it very difficult to come to terms with your father's death from an illness you didn't know he had. You could arrange to speak to his chest doctor about what happened. This might help you to understand the situation more. You could also look in our section about lung cancer.

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Updated: 11 April 2014