Infections Cause 1 in 6 Cancers

Cancer causing infections are largely preventable or treatable

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Millions of people around the world are diagnosed with cancer after being infected with a virus, bacteria or parasite. That accounts for one in six cancers.

The sad part of these statistics is that many of these cancers are preventable or easily treated.

Infectious agents are the major culprits behind nearly two million new cancer cases every year. The vast majority - 80 percent - of these infection-related cancers appear in developing countries, and many could be prevented.

"HPV vaccinations are recommended for young women and men."

Some 1.5 million people die from forms of cancer that could either be prevented or easily treated, according to a new report published May 8, 2012 Online First in The Lancet Oncology.

Catherine de Martel and Martyn Plummer from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, France were the lead authors of the study.

"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 future burden of cancer worldwide," they explain. 

For the study, researchers conducted a systematic population-based analysis to estimate the number of cancers that were caused by infections. 

de Martel and colleagues analyzed data and statistics from a number of different sources and estimated the incidence of 27 cancers in 184 countries.

They found that roughly 16 percent of all cancers diagnosed worldwide in 2008 could be attributed to infections. 

"Many infection-related cancers are preventable, particularly those associated with human papillomaviruses (HPV), Helicobacter pylori [a stomach bacteria], and hepatitis B (HBV) and C viruses (HCV)," the authors state. 

These four infections are responsible for an estimated 1.9 million cases of cancer each year, with the majority being cervical, liver and stomach (gastric) cancers.

In women, cervical cancer made up about half of the infection-related malignancies, while liver and gastric cancers accounted for more than 80 percent of the cases in men.

Goodarz Danaei from Harvard School of Public Medicine said in an accompanying editorial that prevention and therapeutic programs in developing countries could "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," Danaei added.

Funding for this study came from the Fondation Innovations en Infectiologie and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 9, 2012
Last Updated:
May 11, 2012