The lungs are essential organs for life, but it is not well known that respiratory diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide.
The impact of lung diseases
A further increase in the number of deaths from lung diseases is predicted between now and 2020, in particular from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer and tuberculosis (TB).
In 2020, out of 68 million deaths worldwide, 11.9 million will be caused by lung diseases (4.7 by COPD, 2.5 by pneumonia, 2.4 by TB and 2.3 million by lung cancer).
Globally, in terms of mortality, incidence, prevalence and costs, respiratory diseases rank second (after cardiovascular diseases). In some countries (e.g. the UK), they are already the leading killer.
Two major lung diseases (lung cancer and COPD) are generally, but not exclusively, caused by cigarette smoking. However, it is important to stress that lung diseases are not just related to smoking.
There is a wide variety of other causes, ranging from genetic influences to nutritional, environmental and poverty-related factors. In addition, the human respiratory tract is vulnerable to many infectious agents, such as in severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
Each lung disease, therefore, needs a specific diagnostic and therapeutic approach, according to the nature of its cause. As the environment is subject to constant changes, further research is needed into factors influencing and triggering all the different lung diseases.
Over 100 billion Euros
The total financial burden of lung disease in Europe amounts to nearly €102 billion, a figure comparable to the annual gross domestic product (GDP) of the Republic of Ireland.
COPD contributes to almost one-half of this figure, followed by asthma, pneumonia, lung cancer and TB.