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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and Mesothelioma

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a chronic inflammatory lung condition. It causes airflow obstruction, making breathing difficult and uncomfortable.  COPD is mot often caused by smoking. However, other airborne pollutants, like asbestos, can cause or increase the risk of developing COPD.

Other conditions can contribute to COPD, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Someone with mesothelioma from asbestos exposure may also experience COPD. However, the conditions can be easily confused due to similar symptoms. If you have both mesothelioma and COPD, there are steps you can take to alleviate some of the symptoms.

mesothelioma copd

What is COPD?

COPD is a chronic illness that progressively worsens over time. There is no cure for COPD. However, treatment may reduce the severity of symptoms. COPD is characterized by reduced airflow through airways of the respiratory system. This can happen due to a number of factors, including loss of airway elasticity, loss of lung air sac structural integrity, an increase in mucous production, and inflamed or thickened airway walls.

Symptoms of COPD

Because COPD is progressive, the initial symptoms may be mild. Early symptoms include coughing, excess mucous, tightness of the chest, wheezing, and shortness of breath  when physically active. Other early symptoms include edema, or swelling in the feet or legs, weight loss, and frequent respiratory illness.

As the illness progresses, symptoms will become more severe, often interfering with normal activities more. Patients may also experience poor blood circulation, causing a a blue tint in the lips and fingernails, rapid heartbeat, poor mental alertness, and difficulty breathing and talking.

Asbestos and COPD

Smoking is the most common cause of COPD and is the most preventable. However, COPD in nonsmokers may be caused by air pollutants. One potential cause is asbestos, particularly for those who have worked in construction, ship building and operation, and other industrial jobs.

Currently there is no direct connection between asbestos and COPD. However, asbestos exposure does increase the risk of developing COPD. Exposure to asbestos can also worsen COPD, causing it progress more rapidly. Studies have found people with COPD also exposed to airborne toxins in the workplace, were more likely to die from it. In one study, participants were more than twice as likely to die when compared to COPD patients not exposed to workplace toxins.

Is it Mesothelioma or COPD?

Symptoms of mesothelioma and COPD are very similar. Overlapping symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing, tightness or pain in the chest, and fatigue. Both conditions progress over time. Symptoms also worsen, especially without proper treatment.

The main cause of COPD is smoking. However, the main cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. However there are also overlaps here. For example, smoking can increase the risk of mesothelioma. While asbestos exposure increases the risk of having COPD.

If you have symptoms of one of both of these illnesses, you should be screened for both. People with mesothelioma are commonly misdiagnosed with conditions like COPD. Insist on screening for mesothelioma as well as COPD and related conditions. Proper diagnosis is important to ensure you receive the most effective treatment.

Treatment for COPD

COPD diagnosis begins with a lung function test. This test can diagnose COPD even before you experience symptoms.  You may also need a chest X-ray or  CT scan to image the lungs. A blood gas analysis can determine if your lungs are functioning well enough to oxygenate your blood.

If you receive a COPD diagnosis, you will be given several treatment options. Treatments help manage symptoms, but there are no known cures. Prescription medications can relax and expand airways, making breathing easier.  Inhalable steroids to reduce inflammation can also assist with breathing. If you have COPD, you may be more prone to infections. Therefore, antibiotics may be used to fight them.

When medications do not allow your lungs to bring in enough oxygen, you may need oxygen therapy. Oxygen therapy is supplemental oxygen, usually given through a portable oxygen tank. If the condition becomes severe, surgery may be necessary to remove damaged lung tissue.


COPD and related lung conditions are the third largest cause of death in the United States.  Smoking is a major factor. However, asbestos may be a risk factor. In spite of this daunting statistic, COPD prognosis is not necessarily grim. Many people with mild cases of COPD live long lives.

COPD can be a serious disability, often preventing you from participating in normal physical activities. Damage caused by COPD is irreversible. However, medical treatment can relive symptoms and slow progress of the disease. If you have both COPD and mesothelioma, the outlook is not as positive. COPD can worsen mesothelioma symptoms, and there is no cure for either disease.

Living with both mesothelioma and COPD, can have a huge impact on quality of life. If you have symptoms of either disease, request a full diagnosis for both. It is important to receive the most accurate diagnosis in order to get proper treatment to manage symptoms and extend your life.

Page Edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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