Prevalence and management of pulmonary comorbidity in patients with lung and head and neck cancer

Magnus Gottlieb, Kristoffer Marsaa, Nina S Godtfredsen, Anders Mellemgaard

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


BACKGROUND: The simultaneous presence of cancer and other medical conditions (comorbidity) is frequent. Cigarette smoking is the major risk factor for as well head and neck cancer (HNC) and lung cancer (LC) as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is the most common comorbidity in LC patients, and presence of COPD worsens the prognosis of HNC and LC. COPD is under-diagnosed and under-treated in the Danish population. The aims of this study were to determine the prevalence of COPD in a HNC and LC population, and to determine the need and feasibility of a randomized controlled phase II trial comparing usual care with optimized medical treatment of COPD in cancer patients.

MATERIAL AND METHODS: All patients with HNC or LC referred for oncologic treatment in a university hospital during a 10-month period were invited to attend a pulmonary clinic for evaluation of lung function. Patients who were found to have concomitant COPD were randomized to intervention or usual care. Primary endpoints were prevalence of COPD among the referred patients with either LC or HNC, and further whether the patients that were diagnosed with COPD already received treatment in accordance with Danish COPD guidelines. Secondary outcome was feasibility, i.e. the proportion of eligible patients that accepted follow-up in the pulmonary clinic for 24 weeks in addition to oncological treatment. The design of the randomized trail is described in detail.

RESULTS: In total 130 patients of whom 65% had LC and 35% HNC have been screened during the first seven months of this ongoing trial. Sixty-eight percent of LC patients and 22% of HNC patients had COPD. All but one of 68 eligible patients accepted randomization. Nearly one third (31%) of the LC and HNC patients with COPD were diagnosed prior to study entry, and of these, only 33% were receiving correct treatment according to current guidelines.

CONCLUSION: For patients with LC, and to a lesser extend HNC, there is a need for improved diagnosis and treatment of concomitant COPD. Furthermore, patients found it acceptable to be scheduled for a 24-week follow-up in a pulmonary clinic along with their oncological treatment.

Original languageEnglish
JournalActa Oncologica
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)767-71
Number of pages5
Publication statusPublished - May 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Aged
  • Comorbidity
  • Denmark
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms/epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms/epidemiology
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive/diagnosis
  • Smoking


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