One in every 6 cancers worldwide are currently caused by infections! That’s the conclusion of a major medical report released this week: http://www.foxnews.com/health/2012/05/09/1-in-6-cancers-worldwide-caused-by-infections-that-can-be-prevented-or-treated/. The critical point, however, is that these infections are preventable or treatable. The main chronic cancer-causing infections are discussed in detail in When Cancer Hits Home: http://www.amazon.com/When-Cancer-Hits-Home-Empowered/dp/0615391117/ref=tmm_pap_title_0. These are: human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV).
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) has long been known to be the source of most squamous cell cancer (SCC) of the cervix in women. More recently, a clear correlation has also been seen with chronic HPV infection and SCC of the head and neck (specifically the upper throat, called the oropharynx) and SCC of the anus. The virus is sexually transmitted and a majority of adults have the virus at some point in their lives. Fortunately, most people are able to clear the infection and, therefore, are at low risk of cancer. Minimizing the number of sexual contacts can decrease risk somewhat. Vaccination for children and young adults has proven highly effective. The benefits of the HPV vaccine greatly outweigh the extremely low risk for harm. Gardasil by Merck is approved in U.S. for both girls and boys ages 9-26.
Chronic infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) are both major risk factors for the development of cancer, most notably of the liver. This type of cancer is called hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and is a major cancer killer in the U.S. and even moreso in less developed countries. Both HBV and HCV are passed from person to person via blood and sexual contact. While there is a vaccine for HBV, one does not exist for HCV.
The last main infectious source of cancer mentioned in the recent report in Lancet Oncology is helicobacter pylori (shortened to H. pylori): http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanonc/article/PIIS1470-2045(12)70137-7/abstract. This bacterial infection has the potential to cause gastric (stomach) cancer. While not necessarily preventable, it’s highly treatable with a combination of fairly inexpensive medicines if/when caught early.
Clearly, these cancer-causing infections are life-threatening. Ben Franklin’s old adage about “an ounce of prevention” is well worth heeding. Spread the word!
- Patrick Maguire MD