Lung cancer and COVID-19 have the same symptoms, like cough and achy lungs. The effects of both conditions can have a big impact on your ability to breathe.

Scientists are beginning to explore how lung cancer and COVID-19 may interact. Continue reading to learn more.

Lung cancer is when cancer starts in the lungs. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), it’s the second most common cancer in both men and women.

Lung cancer is a long-term condition. Treatment goals can be different for each type of cancer, but usually focus on controlling the growth and spread. Treatment is also meant to eliminate the cancer.

COVID-19 is the illness caused by a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. This virus is currently the cause of a pandemic that has sickened and killed millions of people worldwide.

COVID-19 is a serious condition. Symptoms come on quickly and last a short time. COVID-19 can cause serious or critical illness in others if it is used too much.

However, some people who have had COVID-19 experience lingering symptoms, such as fatigue and shortness of breath. These symptoms can last weeks or months after you first contract the virus. This is called long COVID.

Lung cancer and COVID-19 share many symptoms. However, each condition also has unique symptoms as well.

The table below can help you figure out which symptoms are common and which are unique.

Lung cancer COVID-19
Shortness of breath
Chest pain ✓ (severe cases)
Coughing up blood
Reduced appetite
Unintentional weight loss
Recurrent or persistent lung infections
Fever, with or without chills
Muscle pain
Runny or stuffy nose
Sore throat
Loss of smell and taste
Nausea or vomiting

People with lung cancer are more likely to have COVID-19. These individuals have reduced lung function due to factors.

  • a history of smoking
  • Damage from the cancer itself.
  • the effects of a previous lung cancer surgery
  • Other conditions that affect the heart or lung.

Lung cancer can cause lower lung function and breathing problems, so contracting a respiratory infection like COVID-19 can cause more stress on the lungs. This can raise the risk of serious problems.

Many people with cancer are at an increased risk of contracting infections. This can be due to the cancer or the treatments you are receiving.

mucus in your lungs helps to trap germs Your body expels germs by coughing. mucus drainage can be affected by a lung tumor.

Some cancer treatments can also weaken the immune system, making you more prone to infections. The ACS says that overall, chemotherapy is the most common cause of a weakened immune system in people getting cancer treatment.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), both people with cancer and people with weakened immune systems are at an increased risk of serious illness due to COVID-19.

Since people with lung cancer are at an increased risk of COVID-19, you may be wondering about the outlook and potential consequences.

The types of problems that people with lung cancer may experience are similar to those in the general population. These can include:

COVID-19 can potentially have long-term complications as well. It can take time to recover from damage to the lungs and other organs, particularly for people with cancer. It’s also possible to develop long COVID.

People with lung cancer have a higher risk of death from COVID-19. A 2021 research review found mortality rates ranging from 18 to 47 percent in people with COVID-19 and lung cancer.

A 2021 review included 13 studies of COVID-19 and lung cancer. It found that, in regions outside of China, pooled COVID-19 mortality was significantly higher in people with lung cancer (42 percent) than in people with other cancers (24 percent).

The FDA has authorized several treatments to help treat COVID-19 in people at risk of becoming very ill.

The treatments fall into two categories. The anti-virals prevent the virus from entering your body. Examples include:

  • nirmatrelvir with ritonavir (Paxlovid)
  • Remdesivir is a drug.
  • molnupiravir is a drug.

Your immune system is able to fight the virus withonoclonal antibodies. A treatment that works against current viral variants is called a monoclonal antibody treatment.

If you become more seriously ill due to COVID-19, other treatments can help you get enough oxygen. Options include oxygen supplementation or ventilation.

A 2021 study looked at the treatment of 28 people with lung cancer and COVID-19. It found that:

Does COVID-19 interfere with my lung cancer treatment?

It can be hard to deal with cancer treatments. If you have lung cancer and contract COVID-19, you may need to defer some types of cancer treatment until you recover.

Doctors will make treatment decisions on a case by case basis. Your doctor will consider the benefits and risks of continuing or deferring your cancer treatment while you have COVID-19. They will consider some factors.

  • the type and stage of your cancer
  • The kind of treatment being considered.
  • The risk of your cancer progressing.
  • Your lung function is related to that of your level of lung function.
  • Your age and health.

If you have lung cancer, the best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. The CDC prefers you get mRNA vaccines, like those made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, over the Johnson & Johnson adenoviral vector vaccine.

Vaccination can help reduce your risk of getting sick. It can lower your risk of serious illness or death if you become ill.

The CDC currently recommends that everyone ages 5 and older get vaccinated against COVID-19.

In addition to the CDC, the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommend that people with cancer get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The table shows the current vaccine recommendations.

Primary series First booster Second booster
Pfizer-BioNTech 2 doses given 3–8 weeks apart mRNA booster at least 5 months after primary series Ages 50 and older: mRNA booster at least 4 months after first booster
Moderna 2 doses given 4–8 weeks apart mRNA booster at least 5 months after primary series Ages 50 and older: mRNA booster at least 4 months after first booster
Johnson & Johnson 1 dose mRNA booster at least 2 months after primary series Ages 50 and older: mRNA booster at least 4 months after first booster

It’s important to note that if you have a weakened immune system, the vaccine recommendations are a little different. The table below shows the current COVID-19 vaccine recommendations for immunocompromised adults.

Primary series Primary series: Extra dose First booster Second booster
Pfizer-BioNTech 2 doses given 3 weeks apart extra dose given 4 weeks after second dose mRNA booster at least 3 months after extra dose mRNA booster at least 4 months after first booster
Moderna 2 doses given 4 weeks apart extra dose given 4 weeks after second dose mRNA booster at least 3 months after extra dose mRNA booster at least 4 months after first booster
Johnson & Johnson 1 dose extra mRNA dose given 4 weeks after initial dose mRNA booster at least 2 months after extra dose mRNA booster at least 4 months after first booster

Other ways to protect yourself

You can also get a vaccine to protect you from COVID-19. These include:

  • Asking your household and caregivers to stay up to date on their vaccinations.
  • You wear a mask when you are out in public.
  • Avoid areas that are crowded or poorly ventilated.
  • Maintaining physical distance while you are out in public.
  • washing your hands frequently with soap and water

There are more questions about lung cancer. We will aim to answer some of them.

Can COVID-19 cause lung cancer?

In a 2020 study, researchers wondered if extensive lung damage and inflammation from COVID-19 may contribute to the development of lung cancer. However, it’s still unclear what effect, if any, COVID-19 has on lung cancer risk.

There is ongoing research. We need more time to see results.

Can COVID-19 be mistaken for lung cancer?

“There are some similarities between lung cancer and carbon dioxide. The lungs can show a ground glass appearance when it’s both conditions.”

Experts have some effective strategies to tell the difference between the two. A thorough medical history, laboratory tests, and pathology results are examples.

Does immunotherapy for cancer help protect me against COVID-19?

Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that helps your immune system to fight cancer. While it’s possible that this treatment may protect against COVID-19, much more research is necessary.

A 2021 study found that, compared with people having chemotherapy, those receiving immunotherapy with immune checkpoint inhibitors were less likely to test positive for COVID-19.

A 2022 study included 2,215 people with cancer, including lung cancer. Receiving immunotherapy 4 weeks before a COVID-19 diagnosis was associated with a lower risk of death.

I’m in remission from lung cancer. Should I still worry about increased risk of COVID-19?

If you’ve had lung cancer and are currently in remission, it’s still important to take steps to protect yourself from COVID-19. Some research indicates that having a history of cancer may increase your risk of COVID-19.

A 2021 study compared COVID-19 outcomes between people who had received a cancer diagnosis and those who had not. It found that having had a cancer diagnosis was associated with an increased risk of hospitalization or death.

Is it safe to get the COVID-19 vaccine if I have lung cancer?

The vaccines are safe for people with lung cancer. Mild side effects of vaccination are the most common.

People with lung cancer are more likely to die from their disease. The effects of cancer and lung damage can contribute to this.

Staying up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines is the best way to prevent COVID-19. Should you contract the virus, this can help you avoid serious illness.

Your care team is here to help you. You should raise any questions or concerns you have about COVID-19, the vaccines, or the treatment of cancer.