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Things to Know About Pneumonia and Lung Cancer

Feb 20, 2024

Cancer Care

pneumonia and lung cancer

Pneumonia and lung cancer are separate medical conditions, but both occur in the lungs and have similar symptoms. People with lung cancer are at a higher risk of getting pneumonia. Also, pneumonia is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality among lung cancer patients. Let's learn the link between pneumonia and lung cancer.

Pneumonia and Lung Cancer: An Overview

To understand the link between pneumonia and lung cancer better, you must know what they are.

Pneumonia is a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection in which one or both lungs are affected. You have inflammation and fluid or pus build-up in the air sacs or alveoli.

Research suggests that lung cancer is the third most common form of cancer in the U.S. It refers to the condition in which your lung cells undergo uncontrolled cell division, leading to the formation of tumors, usually in the bronchi or the alveoli.

How Are Pneumonia and Lung Cancer Linked?

The early stages of lung cancer typically do not cause visible symptoms. However, you may have pneumonia as a result of complications due to the onset of lung cancer.

Lung cancer patients, during treatment, undergo several intensive interventions, including chemotherapy, that impact their immune system. They are more vulnerable to getting pneumonia due to their weakened immune systems. Nearly 50-70% of people with lung cancer develop serious lung infections, including pneumonia, during their illness.

How Do Pneumonia and Lung Cancer Differ?

As mentioned above, pneumonia is a lung infection, while the unattended growth of harmful lung cells causes lung cancer.

However, both conditions share similar symptoms, often making it difficult to differentiate between them. Overlapping pneumonia and lung cancer symptoms include:

  • Cough
  • Mucus or phlegm
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sharp chest pain that makes coughing or breathing difficult
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue

How Are Their Symptoms Different?

The symptoms of lung cancer develop gradually, and you experience them only in its advanced stage. However, the symptoms persist for longer and worsen as the disease progresses. While the pneumonia symptoms are more severe and acute, they last for a shorter period.

Other differences in their symptoms include:

  • Lung cancer patients have a more persistent cough that gets worse with time.
  • The phlegm or mucus discharge is dark or rust-colored for pneumonia, while it's green, yellow, and sometimes bloody for lung cancer.
  • If you have pneumonia, you may gasp for air, especially after physical activity, while in lung cancer, shortness of breath is a persistent symptom.
  • While loss of appetite is common to both, lung cancer patients may also suffer weight loss.
  • Pneumonia includes several acute symptoms not seen for lung cancer, such as chills, shivering, headache, excessive sweating, and disorientation.

Risk Factors for Pneumonia and Lung Cancer

Unlike symptoms, the risk factors for pneumonia and lung cancer are different. You are at a higher risk of getting pneumonia if:

  • Contact with an infected individual: When they sneeze, cough, or talk, they release respiratory droplets. When in close contact, you may inhale the infection-causing pathogens.
  • Chronic conditions: People with lung cancer or chronic lung conditions, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, bronchiectasis, and cystic fibrosis, and also with other chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart diseases.

The risk factors for lung cancer range from lifestyle and environmental factors to family history. They include:

  • Smoking
  • Air pollution
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Exposure to radon gas
  • Exposure to asbestos and carcinogens
  • Previous radiation therapy
  • Parent or sibling with lung cancer

Diagnosis and Treatment

For the diagnosis of pneumonia, your doctor may perform:

  • Physical exam to check for swelling in the glands, abnormal breathing, and fever
  • Chest X-ray to detect fluid build-up
  • Sputum culture
  • Blood test

For a more accurate diagnosis, your doctor will advise a biopsy to look for cancer cells. If the biopsy confirms lung cancer, they will perform other tests, including a PET scan, to see how much your cancer has spread.

Pneumonia is treated with antibiotics and may even include a hospital stay. However, recovery for lung cancer patients with pneumonia depends on how advanced the cancer is; for example, in stage 4 lung cancer patients, the treatment for pneumonia can be particularly challenging.

Lung cancer treatment depends on the size of the tumor, its extent of growth, and type. It includes:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Targeted therapy

Receive Compassionate Cancer Treatments with Us

At Chesapeake Oncology-Hematology Associates, our highly skilled and experienced oncologists use the most advanced technologies and state-of-the-art equipment to offer the highest standards of tailored treatment plans for the best outcomes.

Contact us today to know more about lung cancer diagnosis and treatments. Call us at (855) 920-1230 or mail us at coha.contact@gmail.com.


Que. Is pneumonia common with lung cancer?

Ans. Over half of lung cancer patients develop various lung infections, including pneumonia.

Que. Is pneumonia fatal for cancer patients?

Ans. Infections, including pneumonia, are the second most common cause of death among lung cancer patients.

Que. Why do cancer patients get pneumonia?

Ans. Cancer patients have weaker immune systems that put them at a high risk of getting pneumonia.

Que. What happens when a cancer patient gets pneumonia?

Ans. For advanced-stage lung cancer patients, pneumonia is one of the primary causes of morbidity and mortality.

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