Cancer and pneumonia are connected in several ways. Pneumonia can develop as a complication of cancer. It may also be a symptom of some types of cancer. Although lung cancer and pneumonia may occur together, pneumonia can also develop with other types of cancer.
To understand why these conditions often develop together, it is important to know what pneumonia is. Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs. It can be caused by a fungus, bacteria, or viral infection. When a person has cancer his immune system is often weaker, and he may develop pneumonia more easily.
One of the signs of lung cancer is recurrent pneumonia. When a person keeps developing respiratory problems, such as pneumonia, various other tests may be ordered such as a CT scan of the chest. Lung cancer is sometimes found this way.
It is also possible that a cancer diagnosis can be delayed if the cancer is mistaken for pneumonia. Sometimes, people with pneumonia may have symptoms similar to lung cancer. Since cough, shortness of breathe, wheezing, and fatigue are common symptoms of both diseases, it is possible to misdiagnose pneumonia at first.
Cancer and pneumonia are also related because the treatment for cancer can sometimes lead to pneumonia. Treatments for cancer, such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy, can sometimes cause damage to the lungs as a side effect. When the lungs becomes damaged, pneumonia may develop more easily. Chemotherapy often weakens the body’s defenses, so the viruses, bacteria, and fungus that cause pneumonia may more easily attack the lungs.
If pneumonia occurs in a person with cancer, complications may occur more frequently. Respiratory distress syndrome and sepsis are two serious complications that develop more often in people who have both conditions. Sepsis occurs in people with cancer if the infection travels into the bloodstream. This can be a life-threatening infection.
Depending on the type of pneumonia, treatment may include antibiotics, breathing treatments, intravenous (IV) fluids, and oxygen. Treatment may be more aggressive if the patient also has cancer. This is to rid the body of pneumonia quickly to prevent serious complications. Patients with both diseases are more likely to be treated in the hospital instead of as outpatients at home.
Prevention, such as getting a pneumonia vaccine, may be recommended for people who have certain cancers. Other ways to reduce the chances of getting pneumonia include eating well, getting enough rest, and washing hands often. People with cancer should be especially diligent about staying away from others who have pneumonia to prevent becoming infected.