Background: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer are linked because both airflow obstruction and emphysema, on computer tomography, are independent risk factors for lung cancer. However, the local risk of malignancy relative to development of regional emphysema has not yet been defined. Specifically, it is not known if primary lung cancers are associated with regions of worse emphysema within individual patients.
Methods: We performed a database analysis evaluating the association between the degree of regional emphysema as scored on computer tomography and development of primary lung cancer. We also studied the association between regional emphysema and benign lung nodules. We assembled two distinct cohorts using the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Lung Tissue Research Consortium database, hypothesizing that lung malignancy will preferentially locate in the regions of the most severe emphysema.
Results: In the Lung Tissue Research Consortium database, 624 cases met criteria for the malignant nodule cohort and 64 were included in the benign nodule cohort. When comparing location of a malignant nodule to other lung regions within the same person, the odds of having a more severe emphysema score in the location of lung cancer was 1.342 (95% confidence interval 1.112–1.620; p = 0.0022). When comparing location of a benign nodule to other lung regions within the same person, the odds of having a more severe emphysema score in the location of the benign nodule was 1.118 (95% confidence interval 0.725–1.725; p = 0.6137).
Conclusions: Primary lung cancers are associated with areas of worse regional emphysema.