Easily Detectable Viruses Causing Cancer

May 15, 2012

Experts believe that bacteria, viruses and parasites are causing around 2 million cases of cancer around the world each year. Some of these cases will be occurring in England and Wales.

Many of these deaths are due to what are potentially preventable or treatable infections.

Key cancer-causing infectious agents include human papillomavirus (HPV), the gastric bug Helicobacter pylori and the hepatitis B (HBV) and C viruses.

These four were together believed to be responsible for 1.9m cases of cancer around the world, mostly gastric, liver and cervical cancers.

Cervical cancer accounted for around half of infection-related women’s cancers. In men, more than 80% of infection-related cancers affected the liver, stomach and colon.

Dr Catherine de Martel and Dr Martyn Plummer, from the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, wrote in the Lancet Oncology journal: “Infections with certain viruses, bacteria, and parasites are one of the biggest and preventable causes of cancer worldwide … Application of existing public-health methods for infection prevention, such as vaccination, safer injection practice, or antimicrobial treatments, could have a substantial effect on the future burden of cancer worldwide.”

The researchers used information from a number of sources, including a cancer-incidence database covering 27 cancers from 184 countries.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Goodarz Danaei from the Harvard School of Public Medicine in Boston, has written that: “Their estimates show the potential for preventive and therapeutic programmes in less developed countries to significantly reduce the global burden of cancer and the vast disparities across regions and countries.”

“Since effective and relatively low-cost vaccines for HPV and HBV are available, increasing coverage should be a priority for health systems in high-burden countries.”

Although infection related cancers are undoubtedly a problem that is more prevalent in developing world countries rather than in developed nations such as England and Wales, cases of cancer causing infections going undiagnosed and untreated are not unheard of here. In some circumstances, failure to treat and diagnose these sorts of infections early enough can amount to clinical negligence, particularly if a difference is made to the prognostic outcome as a consequence.

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